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TikTok CEO testifies on Capitol Hill as app faces possible ban

ABC News 3/23/2023

A high-stakes standoff between the U.S. government and social media app TikTok over a potential ban is set for a reckoning on Thursday when TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before a committee of House lawmakers.

The China-based app, which counts more than 150 million U.S. users each month, has faced growing scrutiny from government officials over fears that user data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government and the app could be weaponized by China to spread misinformation.

MORE: TikTok CEO to testify on Capitol Hill amid calls for ban on app

There is no evidence that TikTok has shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, but policymakers fear that the Chinese government could compel the company to do so.


Latest Developments

Mar 23, 5:17 PM

Hearing ends after hourslong display of bipartisan hostility toward TikTok

The hearing adjourned Thursday afternoon after roughly five hours of pointed questioning from dozens of House members across both major parties.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, closed the proceeding with a return to an issue that animated many of the questions volleyed by Republicans and Democrats alike: data security.

Crenshaw said while TikTok may not have shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government yet, he said the company could be forced to comply with a future data request.

"Maybe you haven't done it yet," Crenshaw said, addressing Chew. "But my point is that you might have to."

Video: Lawmaker presses TikTok CEO on the app's 'blackout challenge'

"If you want to know why Democrats and Republicans have come together on this," Crenshaw added. "That's why."

Mar 23, 3:38 PM

Texas representative calls on TikTok to remove his state from name of data privacy project

Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, implored Chew to remove “Texas” from the company’s data privacy project.

Chew previously touted Project Texas, an ongoing effort that he says keeps all data on U.S. users within the country through a partnership with Oracle.

"Please rename your project. Texas is not the appropriate name,” Pfluger said. “We stand for freedom and transparency and we don’t want your project.”

Mar 23, 3:25 PM

Who is TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew?

Despite the booming popularity of TikTok, Chew is relatively unknown compared to rival executives like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

Chew, 40, interned at Facebook and graduated from University College of London as well as Harvard Business School on his way to becoming TikTok CEO in 2021.

"I am responsible for all the strategic decisions at TikTok," Chew told The New York Times in November.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on "TikTok on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2023, in Washington, DC. © Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on "TikTok on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2023, in Washington, DC.

He currently lives with his wife and two children in Singapore, where he was born and raised.

Mar 23, 3:24 PM

TikTok CEO on national security fears: ‘I have not seen any evidence.'

Raising national security concerns, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., listed a slew of Western countries as well as the FBI that have warned about the Chinese government accessing and exploiting user data.

"How can all of these countries and our own FBI director be wrong?" Lesko asked.

Video: TikTok CEO on national security fears: 'I have not seen any evidence'

"I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks," Chew responded. "I have not seen any evidence."

"I'm eagerly awaiting discussions where we talk about evidence," he added. "And we then can address the concerns that are being raised."

TikTok has not shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, nor would it comply if asked to do so, Chew previously said.

Mar 23, 1:52 PM

House member on dangerous TikTok challenge videos: ‘Why is it that you can’t control this?’

Rep. Earl Carter, R-Ga., asked Chew about dangerous TikTok challenge videos such as the “blackout challenge,” which critics say encourages users to strangle themselves.

TikTok is facing several lawsuits from parents who say their children died attempting the blackout challenge. The company has blocked searches for #blackoutchallenge, The Washington Post reported.

“Why is it that TikTok consistently fails to identify and moderate these kinds of harmful videos?” Carter asked. “Why is it that you can’t control this?”

Chew replied, “This is a real industry challenge and we’re working very hard.”

“We’re not talking about the industry,” Carter replied back. “We’re talking about TikTok.”

Mar 23, 4:45 PM

During hearing, TikTok takes down video threatening committee chair

Rep. Kat Cammack showed a TikTok video of an animated gun shooting bullets that appeared to target Rep. McMorris Rodgers, the committee chair.

"Your own community guidelines state that you have a firm stance against enabling violence on or off TikTok," Cammack said when she revealed the video. "This video has been up for 41 days."

The video was taken down during the hearing, Chew confirmed when the hearing resumed after a short break.

Video: TikTok pulls video apparently threatening chair of House Energy and Commerce Committee

Mar 23, 3:01 PM

Heated questions over internal memo calling on TikTok employees to ‘downplay’ China ties

Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., directed heated questions at Chew over an internal memo at TikTok that called on employees to "downplay the parent company ByteDance, downplay the China association, downplay AI."

Cammack displayed an excerpt of the memo, first reported by Gizmodo, on a placard behind her.

Video: TikTok CEO questioned over internal memo asking employees to 'downplay' China ties

"You've said repeatedly that there is no threat, that this is a platform for entertainment and for fun," Cammack said, pointing her finger at Chew. "Why, if you had nothing to hide, would you need to downplay the association with ByteDance and China?"

Chew replied: "Congresswoman, I have not seen that memo."

"You cannot answer that question, Mr. Chew," Cammack said.

Mar 23, 4:13 PM

House member on TikTok’s misinformation plan: ‘That’s not enough for me’

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., asked a series of questions about the spread of misinformation on TikTok, citing a viral post in 2021 that falsely instructed viewers on how to make antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine from grapefruit and lemon peel.

“What is TikTok doing to try to strengthen its review to keep this information from coming across to people?” DeGette asked.

Chew said misinformation violates TikTok’s rules but acknowledged that the app fails to remove every false post. “I don’t think we can sit here and say we’re perfect,” he said.

“We invest a significant amount in our content moderation work,” Chew said.

Video: TikTok CEO confronted by lawmakers on tackling misinformation on the app

DeGette later said: “I’m going to stop you right now. I asked you specifically how you were trying to increase your review of this, and you gave me only generalized statements that you’re investing, that you’re concerned, that you’re doing more.”

“That’s not enough for me,” she added. “That’s not enough for the parents of America.”

Mar 23, 1:21 PM

Chew says US should ‘preserve’ Section 230

Facing questions about harmful acts allegedly prompted by TikTok posts, Chew said he supports continued liability protection for social media platforms as a means of protecting free speech.

Video: Chew says US should 'preserve' section 230

Liability protection, stipulated in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, safeguards social media platforms and other sites from legal responsibility that could result from content posted by users.

“[Section] 230 has been very important for freedom of expression on the internet,” Chew said. “It’s one of the commitments we’ve made to this committee and our users.”

“I do think it’s important to preserve that,” he added.

Mar 23, 1:10 PM

Chew grilled over China’s reported opposition to sale of TikTok

Hours before Chew began testimony on Thursday, China said that a sale of TikTok by China-based parent company ByteDance would require the approval of the Chinese government, the Wall Street Journal reported.

At the hearing, lawmakers asked Chew about the report.

Video: Shou Chew faces questions on China's reported opposition to sale of TikTok

"Despite your assertions to the contrary, China certainly thinks it is in control of TikTok and its software," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas. "Is that not correct?"

Chew replied, "TikTok is not available in mainland China, and today we're currently headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore."

"I'm not saying that the founders of ByteDance are not Chinese, nor am I saying that we don't make use of Chinese employees, just like many other companies around the world," he added.

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