The chief executive officer of TikTok says that “ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government” even as a bipartisan group of lawmakers push to ban the popular app.
TikTok faces bipartisan scrutiny at both the state and federal level. More than 30 states, led by Democratic and Republican governors alike, have taken action to ban the app on some or all state-issued devices and networks, The Daily Signal previously reported.
Shou Zi Chew appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday for a hearing titled “TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms.”
The following are six highlights from Chew’s first-ever appearance before Congress:
1. Four Commitments
Chew made four commitments to the committee and to the app’s users.
“No. 1, we will keep safety, particularly for teenagers, as a top priority for us. No. 2, we will firewall protected U.S. user data from unwanted foreign access,” Chew said in his opening statement. “No. 3, TikTok will remain a place for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government.”
“And fourth, we will be transparent, and we will give access to third-party independent monitors to remain accountable for our commitments,” he said.
2. TikTok Is ‘Private Company’
“ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government. It’s a private company,” Chew told the committee in his opening remarks. “60% of the company is owned by global institutional investors. 20% is owned by the founder, and 20% owned by employees around the world.”
“ByteDance has five board members. Three of them are American,” he continued. “Now, TikTok itself is not available in mainland China. We’re headquartered in Los Angeles and in Singapore, and we have 7,000 employees in the U.S. today.”
3. Censorship of Content?
“Have any moderation tools been used to remove content on TikTok associated with the Uyghur genocide? Yes or no?” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., asked Chew.
“We do not remove that kind of content. TikTok is a place of freedom of expression,” Chew responded. “Just like I said, if you use our app, you can go on it, and you will see a lot of users around the world expressing content on that topic and many others.”
McMorris Rodgers then asked Chew about the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989.
“What about the massacre in Tiananmen Square? Yes or no?” asked Rogers, chairwoman of the committee. Rogers clarified her question after Chew did not seem to hear it.
“That kind of content is available on our platform. You can go and search it,” Chew responded.
“I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime,” Rogers said.
“I understand. Again, you can go on our platform. You will find that content,” Chew said.
4. Tragic Story
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., shared the story of a 16-year-old boy named Chase “who tragically ended his life a year ago by stepping in front of a train.” Chase’s parents attended the hearing.
“Mr. Chew, your company destroyed their lives. Your company destroyed their lives. I admire their courage to be here and share Chase’s story in the hopes that it will prevent this from happening to other families,” Bilirakis said. “The content in Chase’s ‘For You’ page was not a window to discovery as you boldly claimed in your testimony.”
“It wasn’t content from a creator that you invited to roam the Hill today or STEM education content that children in China see,” Bilirakis added. “Instead, his ‘For You’ page was sadly a window to discover suicide. It is unacceptable, sir, that even after knowing all these dangers, you still claim TikTok is something grand to behold.”
5. Who Helped Prepare Chew’s Testimony?
“Mr. Chew, I wouldn’t ask you to discuss any privileged attorney-client materials. But did anyone, aside from your lawyers, assist you in preparation for today’s hearing?” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, asked Chew.
“I prepared for this hearing with my team here in D.C.,” Chew replied.
“Did anyone at ByteDance directly provide input, help, or instruction for your testimony today?” Burgess then asked.
“Congressman, this is a very high-profile hearing. My phone is full of well-wishes. You know, but I prepared for this hearing with my team here in D.C.,” Chew responded.
“Are you willing to share who helped prepare you for this hearing with the committee?” Burgess asked.
Chew responded, “I can follow up with you if you like.”
Burgess then asked again about ByteDance and Chew’s testimony.
“Can you guarantee that no one at ByteDance had a role in preparing you for today’s hearing?” he asked.
“Like I said, Congressman, this is a high-profile hearing. A lot of people around the world were sending me wishes and unsolicited advice, but I prepared for this hearing my team here in D.C.,” Chew answered.
6. Threatening Video ‘Up for 41 Days’
“This video was posted before this hearing was publicly noticed. I think that’s a very interesting point to raise, but more concerning is the fact that it names this chairwoman by name,” Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said, referring to McMorris Rodgers. “Your own community guidelines state that you have ‘a firm stance against enabling violence on or off TikTok. We do not allow people to use our platform to threaten or incite violence, or to promote violent extremist organizations, individuals, or acts. When there is a threat to public safety or an account is used to promote or glorify off-platform violence, we ban the account.'”
Cammack was referring to a TikTok video that showed a gun firing with the caption “Me … at the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 03/23/2022.” The video specified #cathymcmorrisrodgers.
“This video has been up for 41 days. It is a direct threat to the chairwoman of this committee, the people in this room, and yet it still remains on the platform,” Cammack said, “and you expect us to believe that you are capable of maintaining the data security, privacy, and security of 150 million Americans, where you can’t even protect the people in this room.”
I think that is a blatant display of how vulnerable people who use TikTok are. You couldn’t take action after 41 days when a clear threat, a very violent threat to the chairwoman of this committee and the members of this committee, was posted on your platform.
You damn well know that you cannot protect the data and security of this committee or the 150 million users of your app because it is an extension of the [Chinese Communist Party].
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