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Live updates: TikTok CEO testifies before a skeptical Congress

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/23/2023 Cat Zakrzewski, Drew Harwell, Cristiano Lima, Will Oremus

Today, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before Congress for the first time, in an attempt to address lawmakers’ worries that the extraordinarily popular video app represents a dangerous national security threat because it is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

But Chew faces an uphill battle in his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as bipartisan support for a ban of the app rises in Washington. Chew plans to use his testimony to correct what he says are “myths” about TikTok. Lawmakers have warned of potential risks of the popular video app’s ties to China, saying the government could abuse access to siphon Americans’ data or fan propaganda. But to date, they’ve offered no evidence of TikTok harming U.S. national security interests.

Here’s what to know:

  • The Biden administration is pushing a plan that would require TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the company. But the administration’s strategy could run into the same legal and constitutional minefield that squashed Trump’s attempt to force a sale of the app in the run-up to the 2020 election.
  • Chew has become the face of TikTok in Washington, where he’s been on a charm offensive to overcome what he calls a “trust deficit” among American lawmakers. The company has been leaning on lobbying tactics used by its American tech rivals as it fights back against its image as Washington’s boogeyman.
  • More Americans support a TikTok ban than oppose one, but there are sharp divisions between generations, political parties, and people who actually use the app and those who don’t, a Washington Post poll found. The poll reports that 41 percent of Americans support a federal TikTok ban, while 25 percent say they oppose it.
  • A government ban of TikTok, which says it has more than 150 million monthly active users in the U.S., could violate Americans’ First Amendment rights to free expression. Though TikTok critics have argued it could be used to boost Chinese propaganda, a U.S. ban of the app could end up silencing people, like this U.S.-based dissident, who use it to criticize the Chinese government.

9:15 AM: More Americans support a ban on TikTok than oppose it, poll finds

© Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post; iStock

More Americans back a TikTok ban than oppose one, with a majority expressing concerns over the company’s links to China, underscoring that distrust of the foreign-owned app has spread beyond Washington, even as its domestic user base soars.

A Washington Post poll finds that 41 percent of Americans support a federal ban of the popular short-video app, while 25 percent say they oppose it. And 71 percent are concerned that TikTok’s parent company is based in China, including 36 percent who say they are “very concerned.”

But the poll shows sharp divisions between generations, political parties, and people who actually use the app and those who don’t. A small majority of people who did not use TikTok in the past month support banning the app, while an identical majority of daily TikTok users oppose it.

Read more about the poll here.

By: Heather Kelly, Cristiano Lima, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement

9:10 AM: TikTok CEO enters the fight of his career

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said a divestment of the company from Chinese ownership will not offer the United States any additional protections. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) © Matt McClain/The Washington Post TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said a divestment of the company from Chinese ownership will not offer the United States any additional protections. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Thursday’s hearing marks the first congressional testimony for TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, who joined the company in 2021 after working as parent company ByteDance’s finance chief.

The 40-year-old was born in Singapore, studied in London and moved to the United States to attend Harvard Business School, where during one summer he interned at Facebook, the tech giant that would later become one of TikTok’s fiercest competitors.

Chew, who runs TikTok from Singapore, has spent much of the past few months conducting personal meetings with congressional lawmakers in hopes of convincing them of his app’s value to American society and his company’s commitment to protecting Americans’ data.

As a young investment banker, he led one of the first main funding rounds into ByteDance when the company was run by a handful of engineers in Beijing. It is now one of the world’s biggest tech companies, with offices in 120 cities and 150,000 employees.

After The Washington Post interviewed him last month, some in Washington said they weren’t convinced. One expert said that Chew must have a “death wish” to visit Congress, where many have argued without evidence that the app poses a grave national security threat.

Read more about Chew’s career here.

By: Drew Harwell

9:07 AM: The Chinese government would “strongly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok

Hours before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was set to appear before Congress on Thursday, the Chinese government said it would strongly oppose any forced sale of the company.

Forcing a sale of TikTok would “seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States,” said Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Shu Jueting at the ministry’s daily news conference on Thursday.

The move blocks a recent push from the Biden administration to pressure TikTok’s Beijing-based owner, ByteDance, to sell the company. Lawmakers in Washington have argued that TikTok’s opaque algorithms could be used to promote pro-Beijing messaging to millions of users, and have voiced concerns that TikTok’s ownership makes it easy for the company to turn over user data to the Chinese government.

Because a sale of the company would involve technology export issues, it would need to be undertaken with the approval of the Chinese government, and in compliance with Chinese law, said Shu. “The Chinese government will make a decision in accordance with the law,” she said.

By: Meaghan Tobin


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