TikTok CEO finds no allies in Congress during House testimony

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the platform’s consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on children, Thursday, March 23, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.<br/><br/> (Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

TikTok CEO finds no allies in Congress during House testimony

TikTok’s CEO faced scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in congressional testimony Thursday as he defended the company from the threat of a national ban.

CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared on Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Chew answered questions about the company’s privacy practices, connections with China, and handling of children’s data but found very few lawmakers sympathetic to his claims. Most members appeared uninterested in hearing Chew elaborate on the policies but seemed interested in asking for short answers to complicated questions and in criticizing the social media platform.

CHINESE GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WILL NOT ALLOW FORCED SALE OF TIKTOK BY US

“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values — values for freedom, human rights, and innovation,” committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said in her opening statement. “TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance, and more manipulation.”

The questions presented by the committee focused on determining if the Chinese Communist Party influenced TikTok’s leadership, how CCP laws apply to TikTok user data, and what efforts TikTok is using to alleviate the harmful effects the app was having on mental health. Chew attempted to address the lawmakers’ concerns. However, the committee had little patience for his explanations and regularly told him to stick to “yes or no” questions.

While Chew said that TikTok was a global company with no dedication to a particular country, multiple lawmakers noted the Chinese government’s Thursday statement threatening to block the sale of the app to the United States. This was worsened when Chew dodged questions from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), who asked Chew if the “Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population.” Chew dodged the query and noted that he was there to “describe TikTok and what we do as a platform.’

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Committee members also attempted to hold TikTok liable for teenagers who died from several challenges, including at least 20 who reportedly died from the “blackout challenge,” a challenge in which teenagers choke themselves with household items until they black out. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) also played a series of clips that appeared to have youth recommending suicide, some of which were stated in jest. “Your technology is literally leading to death,” Bilirakis told Chew.

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Members of Congress have proposed several bills to restrict TikTok in the U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has written a bill to ban the app outright. In contrast, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) have introduced legislation to provide extra powers to the Commerce Department to analyze and determine if foreign business deals are security risks.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interdepartmental agency that reviews U.S. sanctions with international businesses, demanded that Chinese parent company ByteDance sell its stake in TikTok or risk a national ban for the app.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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