TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew got a verbal smackdown from the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday where a crying father whose son took his own life after viewing suicide content broke down into tears.
Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers fired off an attack on Shou Zi Chew’s TikTok at the start of the high-profile hearing, telling the CEO ‘We do not trust TikTok to ever embrace American values.’
‘TikTok surveils us all and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool,’ Rodgers, R-Wash., said.
‘Your platform should be banned,’ Rodgers went on. ‘I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome but you are 100 percent responsible for anything TikTok does.’
‘The facts show that byte dance is beholden to the CCP,’ Rodgers said.
Ranking Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., backed up Rodgers’ attacks.
‘I agree with most of what you said,’ he told her.
Pallone, however, seemed less inclined to throw out the Chinese video-sharing app entirely. He said TikTok ‘threatens privacy and security … in its current form.’
Some committee members argued that TikTok is not doing enough content moderation.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., decried that users weren’t getting access to information on how to self-administer abortions and are seeing Covid-19 ‘misinformation’ on hydroxychloroquine.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., played a compilation of TikToks that displayed pro-suicide content. ‘Your technology is literally leading to death,’ he said.
Dean and Michelle Naska, whose son Chase allegedly committed suicide after receiving unsolicited suicidal videos in TikTok, were in the room. Dean broke down into tears as clips encouraging suicide were blasted onto the screen at the hearing.
Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., pulled up a TikTok of someone unloading a gun and threatening the Energy and Commerce hearing. The video had been on the platform for 41 days, but was removed after Cammack played it at the hearing.
‘You know damn well you cannot protect the data and security of the committee or the 150 million users of your app because it is controlled by the CCP.’
At one point Chew was asked whether parent company ByteDance has spied on Americans at the behest of the CCP.
‘I don’t think ‘spying’ is the right way to describe it,’ Chew responded.
‘Welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress,’ Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said. He asked Chew whether Tiktok’s equivalent in China hosts ‘deadly challenge’ videos aimed at children like the U.S. version does.
Chew said he does not know. ‘You heard the chair lady [about lying being a crime],’ Carter said.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to spend a grueling 4.5 hours of questioning from a commerce who largely think his app spews propaganda and poses a risk to national security.
He started by denying any links between TikTok and the Chinese government.
‘Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country.’
Singapore-born Chew made four promises to the press as he walked into the hearing room: ‘We will prioritize safety. Firewall for US data, protecting from unwanted foreign access. Commitment to keep the app free. And fourth, committed to transparency.’
Pallone pressed Chew on whether he could commit to not sell data. ‘I believe we don’t sell data to any data broker,’ Chew said.
Asked for a solid commitment that the company would not and does not do so, Chew said: ‘I can get back to you on the details.’
At one point Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. asked the CEO how much money he gets paid. ‘I prefer to keep my compensation private,’ he said.
Rodgers pressed Chew over reports TikTok removes content at the request of the CCP.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., played a compilation of TikToks that displayed pro-suicide content. ‘Your technology is literally leading to death,’ he said
Dean and Michelle Nasca, whose son Chase allegedly committed suicide after receiving unsolicited suicidal videos in TikTok, react as clips encouraging suicide were blasted onto the screen at the hearing
House Energy and Commerce chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers fired off an attack on Shou Zi Chew’s TikTok at the start of the high-profile hearing, telling the CEO ‘We do not trust TikTok to ever embrace American values’
‘Have any moderation tools been used to remove content on TikTok associated with the Uyghur genocide?’ she asked.
‘We do not remove that kind of content. TikTok is a place of freedom of expression,’ Chew said.
She then asked him if TikTok removes content related to the massacre at Tiananmen Square. ‘That kind of content is on the platform,’ Chew said.
‘I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime,’ Rodgers said.
‘I understand,’ he said.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., asked Chew three times in a row: ‘Do you agree the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?’
Chew refused to give a straight answer, instead saying he was only there to describe what TikTok does.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to spend a grueling 4.5 hours of questioning from a commerce who largely think his app poses a risk to national security
‘TikTok surveils us all and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool,’ Rodgers, R-Wash., said
Pallone asked Chew to commit to not collecting location or health data but he dodged the question.
‘The problem here is you’re trying to give the impression that you’re going to move away from Beijing, the Communist Party, but the commitments that we would seek to achieve those goals have just not been made,’ Pallone told Chew.
Rodgers called for not only a ban on TikTok but a larger data privacy bill.
‘TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generation,’ she said.
‘A ban is only a short-term way to address TikTok. And a data-privacy bill is the only way to stop [a] TikTok from ever happening again in the United States.’
During the hearing Chew promoted Project Texas, TikTok’s plan in the works to address U.S. security and privacy concerns. But even Pallone called Project Texas ‘unacceptable.’
Chew told the committee that employees of Douyin, China’s TikTok equivalent, can currently access U.S. user data in China. He said that will be changed under Project Texas.
Critics in both parties have expressed concerns that it represents national security and data privacy threats as its parent company ByteDance is effectively controlled by the Chinese government.
The app has few defenders in Congress despite the fact that 150 million Americans regularly use the platform
On Wednesday three House Democrats, led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., held a news conference defending TikTok and saying it poses no more threat than any other social media company.
But even President Biden has backed the bipartisan RESTRICT Act, which would allow his Commerce Department to ban foreign technology companies and encourage the intelligence community to declassify findings related to surveillance.
A number of other bipartisan bills floating around could outright ban the app.
‘Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,’ Shou said
People wearing ‘Ban TikTok’ shorts arrive before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies
FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress late last year that the Chinese government could use it to ‘control data collection of millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which can be used for influence operations.’
He has also warned that it could be used to hijack other software on the phone, potentially allowing it to collect and send more data.
In December Biden signed a bipartisan bill to ban the app on government devices. His administration has threatened to ban the app if the company’s Chinese owners don’t sell their stakes.
But on Thursday China announced it would oppose any forced sale of TikTok. China’s commerce secretary said that a sale or divestiture of TikTok would involved exporting technology and had to be approved by the Chinese government, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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