TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew neglected to provide a clear answer on whether individuals associated with ByteDance, the social media platform’s Chinese parent company, helped him prepare for a Thursday morning hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns over allegations that user data on TikTok can be accessed by associates of the Chinese Communist Party. Lawmakers from both parties questioned Chew on the links between TikTok and ByteDance, as well as the extent to which authorities in China maintain authority and influence over both entities.
Chew was pressed by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) on whether any employees of ByteDance directly provided “input, help, or instruction” for his testimony. Chew responded that his “phone is full of well wishes” but said that he prepared for the hearing with his team in Washington, D.C.
“Can you guarantee that no one at ByteDance had a role when preparing you for today’s hearing?” Burgess pressed. “Like I said, Congressman, this is a high-profile hearing,” Chew responded. “A lot of people from around the world were sending me wishes and unsolicited advice, but I prepared for this hearing with my team here in D.C.”
Burgess asked whether the attorneys who represent TikTok also represent ByteDance. “Yes, I believe so,” Chew admitted.
TikTok CEO won’t say if Chinese officials “had a role” in preparing his testimony to Congresspic.twitter.com/IdUTTPYqn1
— Daily Wire (@realDailyWire) March 23, 2023
Some officials have called for a wholesale ban on TikTok, while others have asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a board that 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 CFIUS has reportedly rejected the proposal.
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 monitor the locations of specific American users.
Chew said in his prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that “ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” even as he acknowledged that the firm has Chinese founders. “Divestment does not address the fundamental concerns that I have heard, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” he told lawmakers. “This is not an issue of nationality.”
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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asserted in her opening statement that Chinese law requires ByteDance and other social media companies to conduct surveillance on its behalf. “From the data it collects to the content it controls, TikTok is a grave threat of foreign influence in American life,” she commented. “It’s been said it is like allowing the Soviet Union the power to produce Saturday morning cartoons during the Cold War but much more powerful and much more dangerous.”
Chew has frequently touted the runaway popularity of TikTok in the United States as he seeks to dissuade lawmakers from taking action against the company. Rodgers added that the massive scale of the platform only “emphasizes the urgency for Congress to act.”