NEW YORK (AP) — On the one side are dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill issuing dire warnings about security breaches and possible Chinese surveillance.
On the other are some 150 million TikTok users in the US who just want to be able to keep making and watching short, fun videos offering makeup tutorials and cooking lessons, among other things.
The disconnect illustrates the uphill battle that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle face in trying to convince the public that China could use TikTok as a weapon against the American people. But many users on the platform are more concerned about the possibility of the government taking away their favourite app.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said during a nearly six-hour congressional hearing Thursday that the platform has never turned over user data to the Chinese government, and wouldn’t do so if asked.
Nevertheless, lawmakers, the FBI and officials at other agencies continue to raise alarms that Chinese law compels Chinese companies like TikTok's parent company ByteDance to fork over data to the government for whatever purposes it deems to involve national security. There’s also concern Beijing might try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation through the platform.
“I want to say this to all the teenagers out there, and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch and don’t know what we’re talking about, trying to take your favorite app,” said Republican Rep Dan Crenshaw during the hearing. “You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but you will be one day.”
Many TikTok users reacted to the hearing by posting videos critical of lawmakers who grilled Chew and frequently cut him off from speaking. Some called a potential TikTok ban, as some lawmakers and the Biden administration has reportedly threatened, the “biggest scam” of the year. And others blamed the surge of scrutiny on the platform on another tech rival, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
But few expressed fear of possible Chinese surveillance or security breaches that lawmakers continue to amplify as they look to rein in TikTok.
Rep Ro Khanna, D-California, whose district is in the heart of Silicon Valley, said he is mindful of the value that platforms like TikTok provide to young people as an outlet for creative expression and building community. “But there’s absolutely no reason that an American technology company can’t do that,” said Khanna, the top Democrat on the cyber subcommittee on House Armed Service. “America has the most innovative technology companies in the world.”
He added that Congress should move forward with a proposal that would force platform’s sale to an American company for continued access for its millions of users while “ensuring that the platform isn’t subject to Chinese propaganda or compromises people’s privacy.”
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans aged 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16 per cent of all teens say they use it almost constantly. It's because of TikTok's large user base that Lindsay Gorman, a former tech adviser for the Biden administration who now works as a senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund, says the Biden administration will likely pursue every option short of a ban first. That would include the option for the app's Chinese owners to divest, which the Biden administration is reportedly demanding from TikTok if it wants to avoid a nationwide ban.
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