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  • Writer's pictureLolita Chowdhury

Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s Appearance Before House Panel

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to address concerns about user privacy and safety for minors (Tom Williams, Wikimedia Commons).

The CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23 to address concerns surrounding the social media platform. With increasing worldwide apprehension, the committee inquired about foreign access to U.S. user data and safety measures for minors on the app.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media platform that allows users to create, share and discover short videos typically set to music or other audio clips. It was launched in 2016 by Chinese tech company ByteDance and has since become tremendously popular worldwide. As of 2023, TikTok recorded more than 1.53 billion worldwide users, 153 million in the U.S. alone. TikTok’s algorithm uses artificial intelligence to recommend videos to users based on their viewing history and engagement patterns, making it a highly personalized and addictive platform.

Why are Lawmakers Around the World Pushing to Restrict TikTok?

The possibility of TikTok and ByteDance compromising critical user data and giving it to the Chinese government has lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe increasingly concerned. They note legal provisions that allow the Chinese government to discreetly request data from Chinese businesses and persons for intelligence purposes. Furthermore, they worry that China might use TikTok’s content recommendations to spread false information.

As of April 14, 2023, TikTok has been completely banned in India and Afghanistan. In addition, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and European Union (E.U.) have banned the app from government and public sector devices.

Chew’s First Appearance Before Congress

In his opening remarks, Chew emphasized that “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.” Additionally, Chew made a point to stress that the data the company collects is data “that’s frequently collected by many other companies in our industry.”

However, lawmakers pushed back by pointing out the impact TikTok purportedly has on the overall well-being of children and teenagers. Due to the “lack of adequate content moderation,” lawmakers claim it leaves children vulnerable to unsafe content. Chew, in response, explained TikTok’s method of “age-gating” (when the app asks the individual for their age and uses information found on the profile to determine the age-appropriate content they should be exposed to). Furthermore, he deferred to the parents of children to monitor what their children are exposed to on the app and set needed time restrictions.

Responses to Chew’s Appearance Before Congress

After Chew’s appearance before the Congressional committee, the COO of Tiktok, Vanessa Pappas, accused lawmakers of having “conversation[s] rooted in xenophobia.” Additionally, many “TikTokers” have expressed concern that Chew faced intense prejudice, with lawmakers associating Chew with China, even though he is Singaporean and TikTok’s operations are partly focused in Singapore. Moreover, these individuals pointed out the irony of Mark Zuckerberg having faced similar allegations a few years ago with Facebook. However, there have been no calls to ban Facebook (or Instagram, which Facebook owns).

TikTok is currently banned on the devices of government officials and those associated with the public sector in the U.S. However, a more extensive prohibition imposed by the government that prevents Americans from using an app that enables them to express their opinions and art may encounter legal obstacles based on the First Amendment right to free speech.



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