TikTok CEO Testifies Before Congress as App Faces Scrutiny

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew plans to offer broad platform safety and security promises at his hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to testimony provided in advance of today’s event. The well-being of child users will be a point of focus, as will the Chinese-owned app’s proposed firewall to protect U.S. data from foreign access and government interference. “TikTok will remain a platform for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government,” Chew’s prepared remarks indicate, noting “there are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform.”

Chew’s remarks were circulated yesterday, a move The Wall Street Journal attributed to “TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., and House lawmakers,” though they were not posted in advance on the official hearing site.

WSJ couches Chew’s testimony as “a calculated gamble by the platform to win an agreement from the U.S. government that would allow it to continue operating with safety and security improvements, while maintaining its current ownership structure.”

Although the U.S. government has been playing hardball with TikTok, with both Congress and the White House threatening to ban the app if it’s Chinese majority owners don’t agree to sell their stake, such a move would surely be constitutionally challenged, and it remains unclear how or if the viral app could be excised from the population at large (although the Biden administration has already banned it from government devices).

Among those weighing in on the constitutionality of banning TikTok are Harvard Law Today, NPR and the ACLU, as well as WSJ which says “any attempt to ban the app faces legal hurdles, including objections that it would impinge on First Amendment rights.”

“The fight is becoming increasingly difficult,” WSJ writes, adding that “there is also a political risk in banning a wildly popular app.” Earlier this week, Chew posted a TikTok video touting new U.S. monthly user figures. “Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok. Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you,” Chew warns.

There is a rising concern that a blow to TikTok will alienate the youth vote. Still, bipartisan legislation has been proposed that would give President Biden the authority to ban the app.

“They are propelled by the intelligence community’s conclusion, contained in the Worldwide Threat Assessment delivered to Congress, that China remains the ‘broadest, most active and persistent’ cyberthreat to the country,” writes WSJ, conceding that “so far, the threat from TikTok is largely theoretical.”

“A lot of this is a game of chicken,” James A. Lewis, head of the cyberthreats program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The New York Times, adding that he believes Biden has “a far greater chance of success” than the preceding administration.

TikTok Live Updates: CEO Faces Congress as U.S. Considers Banning the App, NBC News, 3/23/23
TikTok CEO Faces U.S. Critics in House Hearing, Axios, 3/23/23
Who Is Shou Zi Chew, the TikTok CEO Testifying Before Congress?, The Hill, 3/23/23
TikTok Fight Rocks U.S.-China Relations, The Wall Street Journal, 3/23/23
TikTok CEO Says Company Scans Public Videos to Determine Users’ Ages, TechCrunch, 3/23/23
TikTok Stars Rally in Washington Against App’s Potential U.S. Ban, The Wall Street Journal, 3/22/23
TikTok Stars Go on a D.C. Field Trip, The New York Times, 3/23/23

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