Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) defended social media platform TikTok as lawmakers debate a possible nationwide ban of the app.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have raised concerns over allegations that user data on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, can be accessed by associates of the Chinese Communist Party. Bowman, a member of the “Squad” composed of young leftist House Democrats, listed the purported benefits of the platform during a Wednesday press conference also attended by TikTok content creators.
“TikTok as a platform has created a community and a space for free speech for 150 million Americans and counting,” Bowman said in a video shared to the platform. “It is also a place where 5 million small businesses are selling their products and services and making a living.”
A spokesperson for Bowman, who has nearly 160,000 followers on TikTok, previously said that the lawmaker would “pause on usage” for the account after the House’s Chief Administrative Officer warned about national security concerns related to the platform.
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) also defended TikTok this week after the calls for a prohibition. “I share many of the same security and privacy concerns over TikTok. But over 100 million Americans use the app and many to support small businesses and important social causes,” Garcia said on Wednesday evening. “We should work towards a solution that addresses concerns and allows the app to continue.”
Some lawmakers have called for a wholesale ban on TikTok, while others have encouraged the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a board which evaluates the national security implications of international investments, to force a divestiture from ByteDance. TikTok committed in one recent proposal called Project Texas to spend $1.5 billion protecting user data and ensuring that Chinese officials cannot access user information; the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has reportedly rejected the proposal.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will defend the platform on Thursday morning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and deny that his firm has any meaningful links to the Chinese Communist Party. He has frequently noted the popularity of TikTok in the United States as he seeks to dissuade lawmakers from taking action against the company; young American social media users spend more time on TikTok than any other platform.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party. There have even been calls to ban us or require divestment,” Chew said in prepared remarks. “A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. This is not an issue of nationality.”
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President Joe Biden and several state officials have banned TikTok from government devices over data security and surveillance concerns after reports indicated that ByteDance staffers in China used the platform to track the locations of specific American users. Chew asserted that TikTok has made “mistakes” related to privacy and is “making changes to address” the matter.