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24 Mar, 2023
1 min time to read

U.S. lawmakers questioned TikTok's CEO on Chinese influence and harm to children's mental health, reflecting concerns over the app's power.

During CEO Shou Zi Chew's five-hour testimony before Congress, he repeatedly denied that TikTok shares data or has connections with the Chinese Communist Party. He argued that the platform has implemented robust security measures to protect the privacy of its 150 million American users, including building a "firewall" to seal off protected data from unauthorized foreign access.

Despite Chew's reassurances, lawmakers remained unconvinced, with many expressing concerns over the app's potential to harm U.S. children. Some accused TikTok of promoting content that encourages eating disorders, illegal drug sales, and sexual exploitation.

Chew responded to pointed questions by saying that the issues were "complex" and not unique to TikTok. The company has spent over $1.5 billion on data security efforts under the name "Project Texas" and has nearly 1,500 full-time employees working on safeguarding users' privacy. However, critics were not appeased, as the company failed to announce any new measures to strengthen privacy protections.

TikTok's fate has added a new element to tensions between Washington and Beijing, with some 20 U.S. senators backing bipartisan legislation giving the Biden administration a path to ban the app. It is unclear how lawmakers will proceed after the hearing or how quickly they might move to pass legislation to strengthen the administration's legal powers to ban TikTok.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike expressed concerns over the potential harm TikTok could cause to American children, with some accusing the app of promoting content that encourages self-harm and suicide. Chew told the committee that TikTok takes these issues "very, very seriously" and is investing in content moderation and artificial intelligence to limit such content.

Shares of U.S. social media companies that compete with TikTok for advertising rose on Thursday, with Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc and Snap Inc seeing gains. While some believe that TikTok's demise is imminent, others remain skeptical that rumors of a potential ban will come to fruition.