TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew got a verbal smackdown from the House Energy and Commerce Committee panel as both Republicans and Democrats grilled him over data security and harmful content on Thursday.
From the start of the high-profile hearing, tensions ran high as Chew tried to offer his assurances that the hugely popular video-sharing app prioritizes user safety and should not be banned.
Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, fired the opening salvo: ‘Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security. TikTok has repeatedly chosen a path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation.’
Chew retorted: ‘Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,’
‘Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,’ said TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before the House Committee on Armed Services Committee hearing
TikTok app is one of the most popular social media apps in the United States
TikTok has been trying to distance itself from its Chinese origins, but that narrative was rendered disingenuous after the Wall Street Journal reported that China would oppose any U.S. attempts to force ByteDance to sell the app just before the hearing.
‘Your platform should be banned,’ Rodgers went on. ‘I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome, but you are 100 percent responsible for anything TikTok does.’
‘The facts show that ByteDance is beholden to the CCP,’ Rodgers said.
In a rare bipartisan show, Democrats, including ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., pressed Chew on the social media platform’s content moderation practices, how the company plans to secure American data from Beijing and spying on journalists.
Pallone, however, seemed less inclined to throw out the Chinese video-sharing app entirely. He said TikTok ‘threatens privacy and security … in its current form.’
Some committee members argued that TikTok is not doing enough content moderation.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., decried that users weren’t getting access to information on how to self-administer abortions and are seeing Covid-19 ‘misinformation’ on hydroxychloroquine.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., played a compilation of TikToks that displayed pro-suicide content. ‘Your technology is literally leading to death,’ he said.
Dean and Michelle Naska, whose son Chase allegedly committed suicide after receiving unsolicited suicidal videos in TikTok, were in the room. Dean broke down into tears as clips encouraging suicide were blasted onto the screen at the hearing.
In a rare bout of bipartisan agreement, Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about how TikTok could keep American user data safe from the Chinese government.
People wearing ‘Ban TikTok’ shorts arrive before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies
U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) speaks as TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing entitled “TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms,” as lawmakers scrutinize the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.
In dramatic testimony, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., pulled up a TikTok of someone unloading a gun and threatening the Energy and Commerce hearing. The video had been on the platform for 41 days, but was removed after Cammack played it at the hearing.
‘You expect us to believe that you are capable of maintaining the data security, privacy and security of 150 million Americans where you can’t even protect the people in this room,’ Cammack said to Chew
At one point, Chew was asked whether parent company ByteDance has spied on Americans at the behest of the CCP.
‘I don’t think ‘spying’ is the right way to describe it,’ Chew responded.
‘Welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress,’ Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said. He asked Chew whether TikTok’s equivalent in China hosts ‘deadly challenge’ videos aimed at children like the U.S. version.
Chew said he did not know. ‘You heard the chair lady [about lying being a crime],’ Carter said.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew spent a grueling 4.5 hours of questioning from a congressional committee that largely came in with a preconceived notion that the app spews propaganda and poses a risk to national security.
At one point, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. asked the CEO how much he gets paid. ‘I prefer to keep my compensation private,’ he said.
Rodgers pressed Chew over reports TikTok removes content at the request of the CCP.
‘Have any moderation tools been used to remove content on TikTok associated with the Uyghur genocide?’ she asked.
‘We do not remove that kind of content. TikTok is a place of freedom of expression,’ Chew said.
She then asked him if TikTok removes content related to the massacre at Tiananmen Square. ‘That kind of content is on the platform,’ Chew said.
‘I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime,’ Rodgers said.
‘I understand,’ he said.
Some members of the committee were left unsatisfied with Chew’s responses to their questioning.
‘He was evasive. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t want to answer our questions,’ Carter told DailyMail.com after the hearing, adding that the hearing had swayed him in favor of an ‘outright ban.’
‘At this point I am in favor of an outright ban. We need to get rid of this, this is killing us, literally killing our children and this is psychological warfare.’
Dean and Michelle Nasca, whose son Chase allegedly committed suicide after receiving unsolicited suicidal videos in TikTok, react as TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Dean Nasca, whose son Chase allegedly committed suicide after receiving unsolicited suicidal videos in TikTok, reacts as TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing
Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) asked Chew whether TikTok’s equivalent in China hosts ‘deadly challenge’ videos aimed at children like the U.S. version.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to spend a grueling 4.5 hours of questioning from members of Congress who largely think his app poses a risk to national security
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., asked Chew three times in a row: ‘Do you agree the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?’
Chew refused to give a straight answer, instead saying he was only there to describe what TikTok does.
‘He’s scared of the Chinese government and thus would not separate TikTok from the Chinese government. To me, that was a key of testing him where he’s at in his relationship with the Chinese government,’ Lesko told DailyMail.com after the hearing.
Lesko said moving forward with a ban was ‘possible.’ She said Democrats shared just as many concerns but were ‘worried’ because so many of their constituents use the app.
‘I was talking to a Democratic colleague yesterday .. politically I suppose she was a bit worried but I think this transcends political issues.’
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, posed a scenario where he believed TikTok could essentially brainwash Americans with Chinese propaganda through its algorithm:
‘To all the teenagers out there and influencers out there who think we’re just old and out of touch and trying to take away your favorite app – you may not care that your data is being accessed now but it will be one day when you do care about it. Here’s the real problem, with data comes power. They can choose what you see and how you see it they can make you believe things that are not true.’
‘At any moment they could demand that all of TikTok’s data be used to design an AI algorithm with the sole purpose of promoting Chinese interests and destroying our society from within.’
Pallone asked Chew to commit to not collecting location or health data but he dodged the question.
‘The problem here is you’re trying to give the impression that you’re going to move away from Beijing, the Communist Party, but the commitments that we would seek to achieve those goals have just not been made,’ Pallone told Chew.
Rodgers called for not only a ban on TikTok but a larger data privacy bill.
‘TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,’ she said.
‘A ban is only a short-term way to address TikTok. And a data-privacy bill is the only way to stop [a] TikTok from ever happening again in the United States.’
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2023 in Washington, DC.