After TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s Tense Hearing, Congress Plots Next Steps
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified for several hours on Thursday in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to defend TikTok as U.S. lawmakers threaten to ban the app in the United States.
Members of Congress expressed their fears that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, could be legally compelled to give the Chinese government access to data that it requests. Some representatives said that TikTok could be used as a data-mining operation by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to gather intelligence about the United States and its citizens.
“To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you and manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,” said Committee Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) during one particularly heated exchange.
The accusations against the TikTok CEO were bipartisan.
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Chew described a TikTok initiative called Project Texas where U.S.-user data would be stored by the American technology company Oracle in Austin, Texas data centers, but committee members remained skeptical.
“I still believe that the Beijing communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey).
Chew attempted to highlight his company’s ties to the U.S. and distance the social media platform from the CCP.
“TikTok itself is not available in mainland China, we’re headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, and we have 7,000 employees in the U.S. today,” he said.
Chew also argued that TikTok’s policies were not unlike other Big Tech companies in the United States such as Twitter and Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram), which also collect user data to sell to advertisers.
While national security was the primary focus of the meeting, the app’s effect on American children was also scrutinized by lawmakers.
“Your technology is literally leading to death,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) after discussing how TikTok’s lack of content moderation could lead to the spread of self-harm videos.
Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) also accused TikTok of promoting the “blackout challenge,” a viral trend where people hold their breath that allegedly led to the death of a ten-year-old girl.
“Research has found that TikTok’s algorithms recommend videos to teens that create and exacerbate feelings of emotional distress, including videos promoting suicide, self-harm and eating disorders,” Pallone said.
The House members did not explain why these concerns were specific to TikTok and not to American-owned social media platforms.
The Biden administration, after revoking the Trump-era rule that took TikTok out of app stores, is reconsidering introducing a ban on the app in the U.S.
TikTok is already banned on federal employee devices, and more than half of U.S. states have banned the ByteDance-owned social media platform on state-issued devices.
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