WASHINGTON — TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew plans to tell Congress on Thursday that the social media platform is safe and secure for teenagers and other users and that it won't be accessed or influenced by the Chinese government, according to his prepared remarks.
In his first appearance before Congress, Chew also will confirm that TikTok now boasts 150 million users in America — a 50% increase since 2020, as NBC News has reported, a sign that the popular video-based app is now an integral part of American society.
Chew’s much-anticipated testimony comes as the Biden administration and key lawmakers in both parties are pushing to restrict or outright ban TikTok in the U.S., citing national security concerns.
Chew will note in his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the average TikTok user is now well past college age. Many of those users in the U.S., he will say, are artists, musicians, chefs and other creators, as well as small-business owners, in a clear appeal to Republican members of the panel.
TikTok CEO to appear before Congress amid growing security concernsMarch 20, 202304:18
He will highlight the story of Jessie Whittington, who launched a soap-making business, Country Lather Soap Works in Perkinston, Mississippi, while being furloughed as a bus driver during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Although some people may still think of TikTok as a dancing app for teenagers, the reality is that our platform and our community have become so much more for so many,” Chew will testify.
“TikTok has empowered millions of Americans to express their voices in their own authentic way and has provided a global stage for their creativity in a way that cannot be replicated on any other platform or in any other medium.”
As tensions with Beijing have ramped up, TikTok has become a major target on Capitol Hill. The parent company of the app, ByteDance, is based in China, and China hawks on the Hill believe the Chinese Communist Party could use the app to access data from millions of American users and influence the type of content they see.
The average user spends roughly 90 minutes a day on TikTok.
It’s about “American national security,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, who has authored legislation to ban TikTok.
“My job here is to do what’s in the best of the country,” he said. “And on national security, if the politics are good on it, great, and if the politics are not, I’ll sleep well at night knowing I did what I could to protect the country.”
President Joe Biden has endorsed another TikTok-focused bill — authored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. — that would give the Commerce Department the authority to restrict or ban technologies like TikTok that are produced in one of six adversarial countries, including China, and are found to pose a national security threat.
In recent months, Chew and TikTok have launched a charm offensive on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers of both parties to try to convince them of the app’s benefits. On Wednesday, a small army of TikTok influencers stormed Capitol Hill to meet with staffers for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other lawmakers, and urge them not to ban the app in the U.S.
Chew on Thursday will address lawmakers’ concerns about safety and security in great detail.
To better ensure safety for minors, TikTok last month restricted livestreams on the platform to accounts registered to users who are 18 or older, he will say. Chew will also tell lawmakers TikTok would “welcome a conversation” about legislation to enshrine industry standards for verifying the age of users.
Chew will also address China head-on. He will discuss Project Texas, TikTok’s $1.5 billion program to address national security concerns and protect user data in the U.S. It has created a U.S. subsidiary, TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc., which employs nearly 1,500 full-time employees and oversees U.S. data. And TikTok has contracted with Austin, Texas-based Oracle to store TikTok user data from American users.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party. There have even been calls to ban us or require divestment,” Chew will testify.
“I steadfastly believe that all concerns that have been raised have solutions. Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative," he continues. "We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem.”