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TikTok CEO Takes Hot Seat before US Congress to Dispel National Security Threat Allegations

UTC by Tolu Ajiboye · 3 min read
TikTok CEO Takes Hot Seat before US Congress to Dispel National Security Threat Allegations
Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr

On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before US Congress to address several pertinent issues, including user data protection. 

Yesterday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew concluded his first public hearing before the US Congress. Chew attempted to dispel legislators’ claims that the Chinese-based social media platform threatens US national security. At the hearing, lawmakers grilled the TikTok chief executive over his company’s attempts to protect US user data. Furthermore, the US Congress also probed the social media giant’s alleged ties to the Chinese government.

Chew’s testimony before the US Congress provided a rare glimpse into the mind of the enigmatic TikTok CEO. Although little is known about Chew, TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the United States, with more than 150 million active users.

Chew’s hearing lasted more than five hours before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. During the hearing, Republicans and Democrats revealed their reservations about TikTok’s supposed autonomy from the Chinese government. Chew tried to portray the short-form video hosting app as “a place where people can be creative and curious”. The CEO also maintained that TikTok is working to exceed industry data protection and transparency standards.

In addition to Beijing’s influence and US user privacy data concerns, the hearing also mentioned several other talking points. For instance, Congress touched on TikTok’s impact on children and how it promotes harmful psychological and emotional behavior. According to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone:

“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.”

US Congress Tables Privacy Concerns Before TikTok CEO

Referring to TikTok parent ByteDance as a “Beijing communist-based parent company”, Pallone asked Chew how the app handled US user data. The Congressman and another legislator, Republican committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers repeatedly grilled the TikTok CEO over privacy concerns. However, Chew repeatedly explained that the Chinese government does not own or control ByteDance. Furthermore, the TikTok CEO added that there is no evidence of Beijing’s attempts to access US user data.

Seeking to allay legislator concern about US user data safety, Chew said TikTok does “not promote or remove content” at Beijing’s request. However, US federal lawmakers pointed out that Chinese engineers could still access US data due to TikTok’s reliance on “global interoperability”. Chew further sought to address this fact by outlining a scheme that would ensure the storage of American data on American soil. He assured that this data would also be overseen by American personnel.

On legislators’ claims that TikTok proves inadequate in moderating misinformation and age-inappropriate messaging, Chew had a ready response. According to the CEO, the app employs 40,000 moderators to track malicious content. Chew also added that TikTok runs an algorithm to flag questionable or controversial material.

Chew suggested that TikTok is doing its best to provide Americans with a secure, unintrusive, and wholesome service. He also stated that although the app is not “perfect in doing this”, the company is working “very hard”.

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