TikTok’s CEO faced tough questions from lawmakers on Thursday, who believe the Chinese-owned short video app should be banned for being a “tool” of the Chinese Communist Party and for carrying content that can harm children’s mental health.
CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony before Congress capped a week of actions by the Chinese company aimed at persuading Americans and their legislators that the app generates economic value and promotes free speech in the face of growing calls to ban the app.
TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, has been repeatedly hammered in the ongoing hearing, in which no legislator has offered any support. Many people expressed concern about the app’s power over children in the United States.
“TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable – from people’s location to what they type and copy, who they talk to, to biometric data and more,” said Republican Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values – values for freedom, human rights and innovation,” she said, adding that the Chinese Communist Party “is able to use (TikTok) as a tool to manipulate America as a whole.”
Chew, began his testimony before Congress by speaking about his own Singaporean roots, said, “We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.” He added: “It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we will keep (TikTok) free from any manipulation by any government.”
Republicans and Democrats both expressed concerns about its ability to endanger US national security by sharing data with the Chinese government.
TikTok has stated that it has spent more than $1.5 billion on “rigorous data security efforts” under the name “Project Texas,” which currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and is contracted with Oracle Corp to store TikTok’s U.S. user data. It also claims to rigorously screen content that may be harmful to children.
TikTok’s responses were deemed insufficient by lawmakers.
Representative Diana DeGette pressed TikTok on its efforts to combat misinformation on the platform.
To limit such content, Chew stated that the company was investing in content moderation and artificial intelligence.
TikTok’s actions, according to DeGette, were insufficient.
On Thursday, shares of social media companies in the United States rose, with Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc up 3.4% and Snap Inc up 4.4%.
On Twitter, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives stated that “So far, TikTok CEO testimony has been characterised as a “mini disaster” for TikTok at this critical juncture.
TikTok has become the poster child for US-China tensions, and lawmakers have a lot of questions with few concrete answers.”
Many lawmakers in the United States want TikTok to be banned. TikTok said last week that President Joe Biden’s administration demanded that its Chinese owners sell their stakes or face a ban.
However in a reaction to TikTok’s debacle in the US, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce at a briefing on Thursday stated that “forcing the sale of TikTok will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States. If the news is true, China will firmly oppose it.”
“The sale or divestiture of TikTok involves technology export, and administrative licensing procedures must be performed in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations, and the Chinese government will make a decision in accordance with the law,” the Ministry representative added.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner announced on Wednesday that two more senators have joined him in supporting his bipartisan legislation with Republican John Thune to give the Biden administration new powers to ban TikTok, bringing the total to ten Democrats and ten Republicans.