TikTok hearing undermined by uneducated congresspeople


Alexandra Adelina Nita

Wikimedia Commons

Sarah S. Khan

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23. But the overwhelming incompetence of the lawmakers leading the hearing diminished from the key takeaway; that TikTok does not sufficiently ensure user privacy or safety. 

Republican and Democratic representatives alike expressed skepticism surrounding the safety of Americans using the viral video app. 

Throughout the five-hour hearing, Chew was grilled on multiple topics such as TikTok’s data collection practices and alleged alliance to the Chinese Communist Party. Chew was also asked to take accountability on behalf of his company for children that hurt themselves attempting TikTok ‘challenges.’ 

As with every social media platform, children with unmonitored screen time can never be fully protected. It is up to parents to educate their child on how to employ common sense when navigating social media platforms in a safe manner. 

Chew admitted to prohibiting his own two children from using the app.

According to the New York Post, the consumption of personalized media on TikTok can mess with the dopamine center of the brain, resulting in a weakened attention span in non-digital situations.

Children and teens do not yet have the critical thinking skills necessary for the safe navigation of the online world. Ultimately, parents hold the responsibility of encouraging activities that reduce TikTok usage.

Parents can enable features such as restricted mode and family pairing to mitigate the risk of social media’s impact on their children’s wellbeing.  

“There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform… I’m making the following commitments to you and all our users,” Chew said during his testimony. He then lists these works-in-progresses, which included the prioritization of safety features intended to protect teenagers and U.S. data from “unwanted” foreign access. 

He also declared that TikTok will continue allowing free expression that cannot be dictated by any government. But ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is based in Beijing, a stronghold for the CCP.  

In his testimony, Chew made it abundantly clear that the CCP doesn’t have jurisdiction over ByteDance. But it is still possible that Chinese tech employees could be forcibly asked to reveal sensitive information about TikTok users to Chinese authorities.

ByteDance has already admitted to tracking reporters’ locations in the past.

Furthermore, China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law states that “any organization” must cooperate with state intelligence work while a separate 2014 Counter-Espionage Law says “relevant organizations … may not refuse” to collect evidence for an investigation. 

After the trial, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning asserted that the Chinese government has never asked companies to collect or provide foreign “data, information or intelligence.” Thus, the national security of the U.S. is not proven to be hindered by TikTok.

The hostile nature of the House Committee’s line of questioning likely resulted from growing fears regarding China’s technological and political prowess over recent years.

“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values—values for freedom, human rights and innovation,” Rep. Cathy Rodgers said.

The concerns raised during the trial are legitimized by the harmful content published and kept up on TikTok, such as videos inciting violence.

A video of a gun was posted by a TikTok user 41 days prior to the hearing, captioned: “Me as F at the House of Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23rd.” It also cites Rep. Cathy Rodger by name, implying that she would  be the target. 

Florida Rep. Kat Cammack pointed out that the aforementioned video defies TikTok’s Community Guidelines and yet still made it onto the app. She claimed that Chew is unable to protect all American TikTok users, let alone, “the people in this room.”

But the hearing was ultimately not as effective as it could have been. Many of the congress members asking questions demonstrated a minimal understanding of social media algorithms and data privacy. 

For example, Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter asked Chew if TikTok tracks pupil dilation of users so they could amplify similar content. Chew said that they only use facial recognition for filters and also expressed confusion as to the purpose of the question.

The damage done by TikTok cannot be reversed and its content has been reposted on other platforms. But when considering other online perils affecting American youth, such as the psychological warfare of porn access, the trial against TikTok seems blown out of proportion.