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Congress hauls TikTok CEO in to testify, GOP lawmaker tells him he cannot protect consumers

 March 24, 2023

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Thursday to address bipartisan concerns about data privacy and national security with regard to the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok. It featured testimony from TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

During the hearing, Chew was pressed by Republican Rep. Kat Cammack (FL-03) over an active TikTok post that threatened violence against the committee's chairwoman and asserted "you damn well know" the platform was incapable of protecting users, The Hill reported.

The congresswoman also raised legitimate concerns about TikTok's parent company ByteDance, a Chinese company closely linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok, ByteDance, and the CCP

During Rep. Cammack's five minutes of questioning, she first raised the issue of the close connections between ByteDance and the CCP and how ByteDance has tried to hide or minimize that connection from the American public.

She then referenced the frequent claims of "transparency" from Chew and the company and compared that with a leaked internal memo from TikTok corporate headquarters to company spokespersons that instructed them to be anything but transparent.

Cammack highlighted how the memo directed the spokespeople to "downplay the parent company ByteDance, downplay the China association, downplay AI," and asked the CEO, "Why, if you have nothing to hide, would you need to 'downplay' the association with ByteDance and China?"

Video threatened violence against committee chair

The Hill noted that the Republican congresswoman from Florida then directed Chew's attention to a brief video on TikTok that featured an animated view of the internal mechanics of a handgun as it was being fired and was captioned: "Me asf at the, House Energy and Commerce Committee on 03/23/2023."

The post also included a hashtag that specifically named Republican Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05).

Cammack noted that the video had been posted "41 days ago" and said, "This video was posted before this hearing was publicly noticed -- I think that is a very interesting point to raise -- but more concerning is the fact that it names this chairwoman by name."

"Your own community guidelines state that you have a 'firm stance against enabling violence on or off TikTok. We do not allow people to use our platform to threaten or incite violence, or to promote violent extremist organizations, individuals, or acts. When there is a threat to public safety or an account is used to promote or glorify off-platform violence, we ban the account,'" the congresswoman noted.

TikTok is an "extension of the CCP"

"This video has been up for 41 days. It is a direct threat to the Chairwoman of this committee, the people of this room, and yet, it still remains on the platform," Cammack said.

"And you expect us to believe that you are capable of maintaining the data security, privacy, and security of 150 million Americans, when you can't even protect the people in this room?" she continued. "I think that is a blatant display of how vulnerable people who use TikTok are. You couldn't take action after 41 days, when a clear threat -- a very violent threat to the chairwoman of this committee and the members of this committee -- was posted on your platform."

The Florida Republican added, "You damn well know that you cannot protect the data and security of this committee, or the 150 million users of your app, because it is an extension of the CCP."

Video finally taken down after being highlighted in hearing

For what it is worth, The Hill reported that TikTok CEO Chew later informed the committee that he had learned during a break that the video highlighted earlier by Rep. Cammack had finally been taken down by the platform.

That belated action, though undoubtedly welcomed and in line with the platform's stated policies, will likely be dismissed as too little, too late in terms of mollifying the concerns of lawmakers.

Whether anything substantive comes out of this hearing remains to be seen, but there has been some serious discussion on both sides of the aisle about possibly banning TikTok in the U.S. if clear and distinctive boundaries between the company and the CCP aren't imposed along with protections for the data privacy and security of the platform's users.