'Xenophobic witch hunt': TikTok users, some US Democratic lawmakers oppose app ban
TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi is set to deny allegations by US lawmakers that the hugely popular video-sharing app had ever, or ever would, share data with the Chinese government.
WASHINGTON: TikTok users and three United States Democratic Party lawmakers on Wednesday (Mar 22) said that they opposed any potential ban on the Chinese-owned short video sharing app that is used by more than 150 million Americans.
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi will testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee amid growing calls for a ban over national security concerns at a time when relations between Beijing and Washington have deteriorated.
Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Mark Pocan and Robert Garcia and TikTok users called at a press conference in Washington for broad-based privacy legislation that would address all large social media companies.
"Why the hysteria and the panic and the targeting of TikTok?" Bowman asked. "Let's do the right thing here - comprehensive social media reform as it relates to privacy and security."
Still, far more US lawmakers want TikTok banned. Critics fear that TikTok user data in the United States could be passed on to China's government.
Last week, TikTok said the administration of President Joe Biden had demanded its Chinese owners divest their stakes or it faces a potential ban.
Creators talked on Wednesday about posting videos of baking cakes or selling greeting cards to TikTok followers. Some held up signs saying TikTok benefits small businesses. TikTok says 5 million businesses use the app.
TikTok creator Jason Linton uses TikTok to share videos of his three adopted children in Oklahoma and has interacted with people around the world.
"I am asking our politicians - don't take away the community that we've all built - a community that lasts, that loves," Linton said at the press conference.
A group of around a dozen teenagers, teachers and business owners rallied at Congress to discuss their opposition to a potential ban and draw attention to the benefits of TikTok on their lives and livelihoods.
Some in the crowd at the US Capitol said they had been flown to Washington by the company, local media reported.
"I kind of built my business on TikTok, so this poses somewhat of a problem for me and my business," soapmaking entrepreneur @countrylather2020 told her 70,000 followers in a video recorded after she arrived in the capital.
"Are there other platforms out there? Absolutely - I'm on them. But none of them have the reach that TikTok has."
Pocan said a "xenophobic witch hunt" is motivating some in Congress to seek a TikTok ban. "Banning TikTok isn't the answer. Making sure Americans' data is safe is," he said.
Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor on Wednesday that TikTok is a threat that needs to be addressed but it is not the only surveillance threat to young people. That position "is deliberately missing the Big Tech forest for the TikTok trees".
Democratic Senator Mark Warner said two additional senators backed his bipartisan legislation with Republican John Thune to give the Biden administration new powers to ban TikTok.
"Congress needs to give the administration the tools to review and mitigate the harms posed by foreign technology products that come from adversarial nations," Warner said.
"NOT AN AGENT OF CHINA"
Chew will appear for the first time before US Congress on Thursday.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are expected to give the 40-year-old a rough grilling and Chew will face an uphill battle to sway the US lawmakers over their national security concerns.
There is currently legislation, including one Bill backed by the White House, already paving the way for a ban of the app if TikTok fails to split from its parent company ByteDance.
"Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country," Chew will say, according to his prepared remarks made available by the House committee.
"TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made," Chew will add in his opening statement.
"Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative."
Chew's remarks include a long set of assurances and promote the company's elaborate plan – known as Project Texas – to satisfy US national security concerns.
According to that plan, the handling of US data will be ringfenced into a separate division of the company, co-controlled with Oracle and under different management.
The Singaporean CEO will tell the US lawmakers that TikTok has already spent US$1.5 billion on Project Texas and hired 1,500 US-based staff members to make it a reality.
He will also argue US user traffic is running exclusively on Oracle's servers and that the algorithm driving TikTok's signature "For You" recommendations is processed in the US.
Chew will also tout TikTok's content moderation, which is staffed by "more than 40,000 people" around the world.
TikTok "is not the platform of choice for individuals seeking to engage in harmful conduct", Chew will say, in a tacit criticism of rivals such as Google-owned YouTube and Meta-owned Facebook that have also struggled with harmful or illegal content.
Chew will also point to the site's new default of imposing a 60 minutes-a-day time limit for under-18s.
They also are barred from holding live streams, which are more difficult to monitor, although critics allege the rules are easy for underage users to circumvent.