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She fought San Francisco’s street crime. Now she’s fighting TikTok’s ban in Washington

What San Francisco politics taught Suzy Loftus, TikTok’s head of trust and safety

Illustration of woman with phones around her.
Suzy Loftus, who heads U.S. data security at TikTok, is working to build political and social trust for the social media company, at a time when President Joe Biden has signed a bill threatening to ban the app in the U.S. after a year. | Source: Illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard

In recent days, TikTok users steeped in San Francisco politics might have found the app’s eerily accurate algorithm serving up a video with a surprising yet familiar face.

“My name is Suzy Loftus,” it begins, “and I’m the head of trust and safety for US data security [at] TikTok. We're spending $2 billion to make sure we are keeping TikTok safe. We have a U.S.-led team. We have a third party, an American company, to store protected user data.” 

In 2017, Loftus was the president of the San Francisco Police Commission, which was facing criticism from all corners as it moved haltingly to reform the department it oversees. 

How did she move through several more local and state roles to become a policy face for TikTok, running point on everything from fighting election disinformation to managing the company’s moderation and child safety efforts?


Head of Trust & Safety, Suzy Loftus, shares what we’re doing to keep TikTok a safe place to connect.

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Neither Loftus nor TikTok responded to requests for comment. But her political past, including her work with current Vice President Kamala Harris, surely led to her role today. Similar jobs across big tech are often occupied by veteran White House staffers, making Loftus’ ascension a remarkable rise for someone without a prior national profile.

San Francisco politics: Knife fight in a phone booth

In her time in city politics, Loftus often navigated contentious issues with a disarming ease, even more remarkable since her tenure coincided with a tense period in San Francisco's history following a series of police killings. 

During her time as police commissioner, activists calling for reforms—including the resignation of the police chief—would push their way into the commission chambers chanting angry slogans. Often, sitting across from Loftus, testifying in a voice on the border of stern and combative, would be president of the city’s powerful police union.

Caught between warring factions, the mother of three still managed to lead a successful police reform effort—somehow avoiding alienating activists, city leaders or police brass in the process.

Now Loftus is using the political chops she gained in San Francisco, where Mayor London Breed appointed her interim district attorney in 2019, to face the far greater odds stacked against her latest employer. 

In recent months, the company has been on what the Washington Post dubbed a “charm offensive,” which included inviting journalists to one of its transparency centers in Los Angeles. Loftus was in attendance. 

But despite such efforts and in a rare show of bipartisanship, President Joe Biden signed into law Wednesday a bill from Congress to ban TikTok in the U.S. after a year. The bill is meant to force its Chinese owners, ByteDance, to sell TikTok's U.S. assets before the ban is enacted. 

The House bill’s author, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, told the Guardian it is meant to fight what he called “Chinese propaganda on the app TikTok. This app is a spy balloon in Americans’ phones.”

At the intersection of policing, politics and policy, the issues Loftus faced often had potentially fatal consequences. The experience may suit her well as TikTok finds its U.S. operation in a fight for its life. 

If it hasn’t worked out, it's not the end

Loftus, an alumna of Emerge California, which trains women to become politicians, said in a recent interview that, in “every job I have had, I have reached for as much responsibility and power as I can.”

She has a magnet on her fridge that seems to characterize the stick-to-it-ness that her climb up the career chain embodies: “It always works out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out, it's not the end.”

Raised by a single mother in San Francisco and then the Sierra foothills, Loftus got her start in law in 2005, working as a prosecutor in San Francisco under then-District Attorney Kamala Harris. 

A man and a woman laugh.
Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris laugh at a Time magazine breakfast in Denver on Aug. 26, 2008. | Source: Photo by Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

In 2011, Harris brought her to the California Attorney General’s office. In Sacramento, Loftus liaised with local law enforcement, giving her both a big-picture view of what was happening across the state and direct contact with local police and sheriffs.

Former lobbyist Nick Warner, who worked with Loftus in Sacramento, said in an interview with her on his podcast that she differed from most political operators in the capital.

Warner said before Loftus, he hadn't met someone who could connect with people as well as she did in the noisy environment of Sacramento.

Her affability should not be taken for a lack of backbone. She once told a reporter with the San Francisco Examiner, “It’s a mistake to interpret my kindness as weakness.”

She served as the chief operating officer at the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco from 2012 to 2014.

Her first high-profile role in San Francisco, where she was a member of the local Democratic party for several years, came when she joined the Police Commission in 2012, which she eventually led as president.

Under Mayor Ed Lee, she was the face of reform, finally pushing through a new use-of-force policy for the police department, which the police union opposed

“That was a full fight with the POA,” said the head of the city’s police watchdog agency and longtime Loftus friend Paul Henderson.

State Controller and former San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said that Loftus’s time on the police commission was consequential for San Francisco’s police reform era. 

“She ushered in the elimination of the carotid restraint which was a really big deal,” Cohen said. “She does not shy away from any controversy.”

A police officer at a press conference.
Then-San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr makes his way to a podium before the start of a news conference on April 29, 2016. | Source: Eric Risberg/AP Photo

Those reforms included imposing body-worn cameras on officers, barring police from shooting at moving cars and beefing up de-escalation techniques to prevent police shootings.

During some of that period, her day job—in a second stint with Harris from 2015 to the end of 2016—was as general counsel at the AG’s Office.

At the beginning of 2017, Loftus stepped down from the commission and then briefly worked for the San Francisco Sheriff's Office as legal counsel.

In late 2019, she was appointed by Mayor London Breed as interim district attorney after George Gascón resigned to run for DA in Los Angeles. Loftus only held the post briefly, losing her election bid to Chesa Boudin in a 2020 progressive tide. The loss stung, Henderson said.

Loftus didn’t wait long to make her next move. In 2021, she returned to a much bigger stage with TikTok as global head of risk and operations.

“The pivot to TikTok at first felt like, ‘What? Why TikTok?’” Henderson said. “But it was the perfect environment to flex who she was.” 

With Washington giving TikTok a year to arrange the sale of its U.S. assets before the ban goes into effect, Loftus’ will and determination may be tested, even as the company has promised to take the government to court over the law. 

TikTok’s fate may not rest with Loftus, but as the issues under her purview become part of the public and perhaps legal debate, her experience in San Francisco’s “knife fight in a phone booth” style of politics might be just what the Beijing-based owners of TikTok are banking on to help see them through.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at