TikTok CEO testifies in Congress as national ban looms


Photo courtesy of Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Thursday, March 23, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared in front of Congress to give testimony on issues of security surrounding the platform.

The app, which boasts 150 million American users, has been a hot button issue within the U.S. government due to its ties with China and fears user data will be tracked and used for purposes unknown to both the American government and U.S. account holders.

“To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,” Rep. McMorris Rodgers said.

Chew disputed the allegations throughout the five hour hearing, claiming U.S. user data is safe from the Chinese government.

“[TikTok has been] building what amounts to a firewall to seal off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access,” Chew said. “The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”

Chew added that TikTok does not adhere to direction from the Chinese government, but this claim failed to sway lawmakers.

“We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government,” Chew said. “It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we will keep [TikTok] free from any manipulation by any government.”

Lawmakers also addressed the impact the app has had on children and young adults, citing many instances where the app has had a negative influence.

“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,” Rep. Frank Pallone said.

Some criticized U.S. lawmakers for using this issue to further their anti-Chinese agenda and believe politicians crusading to ban the app are using it as a vehicle to push their overall position against any Chinese influence.

In a tweet, one user commented on the irony of the congressional hearing targeting TikTok as opposed to other social media sites with similar data collection practices.

“The funny thing about this TikTok hearing is that everything they’re framing TikTok of being — an entity that collects data/spies/is state influenced — is precisely what every American social media company functions like, but they get a pass solely because they aren’t Chinese.”

As TikTok continues to be under the microscope, Thursday’s hearing signals that lawmakers will be moving forward with plans for a national ban of the app.

Last week, the Biden administration demanded Chinese owners divest their stakes in TikTok or risk a potential U.S. ban — a move which was met with disdain from the Chinese government.

“The US side has so far failed to produce evidence that TikTok threatens US national security,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said.

In a tweet on March 26, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared to confirm plans for a TikTok ban.

“It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true — China has access to TikTok user data,” McCarthy said. “The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”