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Biden Risks Facing a Lose-Lose Scenario as TikTok CEO Prepares to Testify

Newsweek 3/22/2023 Anna Skinner
Shou Chew and President Biden © Thos Robinson/Getty; Anna Moneymaker/Getty Shou Chew and President Biden

President Joe Biden faces a tough choice when it comes to deciding whether to ban the popular video app TikTok from the United States.

TikTok has faced bipartisan scrutiny for years over its Chinese origins. Legislators have long voiced concerns that the app is a national security threat, potentially providing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with hordes of data on millions of Americans, including their whereabouts and increasing their access to disinformation. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to provide testimony before Congress on Thursday to outline security measures that could protect U.S. data from foreign adversaries.


Politicians are proposing legislation that would grant the president power to ban or restrict Chinese technology, including TikTok. The bill called the RESTRICT Act has gained bipartisan support and a stamp of approval from the White House.

As tensions heighten between the U.S. and China, Biden faces a difficult decision on whether to ban TikTok, an action that may protect national security data but could backfire at the polls if he runs for reelection in 2024.

How Biden's decision on TikTok could influence voters

Roughly 150 million Americans, or nearly half the country, use TikTok, a number that includes many young users. By banning the app, Biden risks losing crucial votes at the polls. However, if he chooses to implement safeguards instead and keep the app operative in the U.S., older voters could respond negatively.

According to Statista, the majority of TikTok users are part of Gen Z, between the ages of 18 and 24—a demographic that overwhelmingly votes Democrat. Gen Z's voter turnout is increasing at a quick pace, and although a presidential decision to ban TikTok may not influence Gen Z voters to jump parties, it could influence who they vote for in 2024.

Much lower TikTok use is reported among people ages 45 to 55. Pew Research Group reported in 2018 that the split between Democrat and Republican voters evens out in higher generations, with Generation X voters tilting toward Democrat and Baby Boomers being more evenly divided.

However, Michael Ferguson, a political strategist with PoliticalVIP, told Newsweek that it remains unseen who Democratic Gen Z and millennial voters would turn to in the 2024 election. Instead, Ferguson said the decision not to ban TikTok would likely impact Biden more at the polls.

"The older generation is likely more inclined to lean more toward the Republican party, to begin with, especially when it comes to national security issues," Ferguson said.

However, Republican voters in the older generations may have voted for Biden in 2020 simply because they didn't want to reelect Donald Trump. Ferguson said the bigger possibility for loss of support at the polls is that Republicans who voted for Biden in the past may return to their party for the 2024 election.

David Washington, a political strategist with PoliticalVIP, told Newsweek that younger voters may not be inclined to vote against Biden if TikTok is banned, rather they won't show up at the polls in 2024.

Washington said that the 18 to 30 demographic was instrumental in helping Biden secure the presidency. Much of the support stemmed from Biden's promises around student loan relief, and a lot of the momentum for Biden gained steam on social media outlets like TikTok.

"If TikTok is taken away, that will be a negative for Joe Biden and his campaign to reach out to that 18 to 30 demographic and get them to understand the importance of voting," Washington said. "I don't think it's a question of them going to the other side [if TikTok is banned]. They just won't participate. Voter turnout amongst 18 to 30-year-olds will take a significant dip, and that is something that Joe Biden and his campaign staff do not want."

Newsweek reached out to a TikTok spokesperson via email for comment.

What is included in Chew's testimony?

Although security concerns have remained a top issue legislators have with TikTok for several years, safeguards are still being proposed to keep American data safe from foreign adversaries.

Chew is anticipated to propose safeguards to the app during his testimony. One such safeguard proposes all American data on the app is stored in the U.S. by an American company.

In written testimony sent to U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chew said that TikTok has spent $1.5 billion in implanting the initiative.

"To ensure that the data of all Americans is stored in America and hosted by an American headquartered company, we have contracted with Oracle, an industry leader in cloud-based services, to store TikTok's U.S. user data," Chew wrote in his testimony.

Chew went on to say he was aware of the concerns around ByteDance—the Chinese company that owns TikTok—but he said he believes each concern has a solution.

"Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative—one that we believe addresses the concerns we've heard from this Committee and others," Chew wrote.

"TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made," Chew added.

However, legislators doubt that the safeguards can keep CCP out of the data if ByteDance continues to own TikTok.

Trust between the U.S. and China has grown taut, particularly after the U.S. shot down several suspected Chinese spy balloons that were spotted over the country. Relations also soured as Congress investigates the origins of COVID-19, one of the theories speculating that the virus was released from a lab in China.

Legislators have grown increasingly nervous about China's access to U.S. data, particularly through TikTok.

"It's safe to assume that if the [Chinese Communist Party] is willing to lie about its spy balloon and cover up the origins of the worst pandemic in 100 years, they'll lie about using TikTok to spy on American citizens," Senator John Thune told reporters earlier this month at a press conference. Thune, a Republican, is one of the RESTRICT Act's sponsors.

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