U.S. lawmakers put extensive pressure on social media platform, TikTok, in a hearing on Thursday, March 23 2023 with Shou Chew, the platform’s CEO.
Chew was questioned on multiple aspects of the platform, including the company’s ties with China and other security concerns. The Chinese social media company has been at the brunt of a lawmakers’ onslaught as the US Congress grows increasingly skeptical about the company.
With over 150 million American users, TikTok is one of the largest social media platforms worldwide. . TikTok has over 1 billion active users monthly, trailing just behind Facebook and YouTube, with 2.9 billion and 2.2 billion users respectively.
Despite its extensive usership, from what occurred in congress it seems , TikTok might be the victim caught between a crossfire of two global powerhouses – China and the US. In a hearing that lasted over 5 hours, there were calls for the social media platform to be banned from the United States. Efforts to ban the platform have been rife in Congress in recent days.
Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened Thursday’s hearing by telling Shou straightforwardly: “Your platform should be banned.”
With its ties to the Chinese state being a major exhibit in the case against his company, TikTok CEO, Shou Chew, stressed its independence from China. Chew told Congress:”TikTok itself is not available in mainland China, we’re headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, and we have 7,000 employees in the U.S. today,”
In a further effort to assuage lawmakers Chew stated, “Still, we have heard important concerns about the potential for unwanted foreign access to US data and potential manipulation of the TikTok US ecosystem. Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action.”
In a deviation from the issue of national security, multiple lawmakers also brought concerns forward about TikTok’s impact on children.
A congressman, Frank Pallone, submitted a research report that showed how TikTok’s algorithm recommends videos that create and aggravate feelings of emotional distress.
Rep. Bob Latta, a Republican from Ohio, accused TikTok of promoting a video on the so-called “blackout challenge” or choking challenge that made its way to the feed of a 10-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, who later died after trying to mimic the challenge in the video.
Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida stated that there is a lack of adequate content moderation, which allows kids to be exposed to content that promotes self harm.
“Your technology is literally leading to death,” Bilirakis said to Chew.Mentioning examples of harmful content served to children, he said, “it is unacceptable, sir, that even after knowing all these dangers, you still claim that TikTok is something grand to behold.”
Shou Chew, in a persistent effort to ease the concerns brought forward by the US Congress, tried to persuade the lawmakers that the concerns brought forward could be sufficiently addressed given enough time and trust by the American society.
“I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks. I have not seen any evidence. I am eagerly awaiting discussions where we can talk about evidence and then we can address the concerns that are being raised.”
However, that hope for discussion may not be what comes next, as the US Congress may be leaning towards addressing those risks instead with the elimination of TikTok in the form of a U.S. ban from the platform entirely.