Lawmakers grilled Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, in a U.S. House committee hearing today (March 23), and Congress looks increasingly likely to move forward with legislation that could ban TikTok in the U.S. or force a divestment from its Chinese parent company ByteDance.
Not only does a TikTok ban in the U.S. have bipartisan support from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but an overhaul of the laws that protect all social media companies may be imminent as well.
TikTok is facing a potential ban because of Congress’s concerns about the company’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party as well as the impact its content has on children.
“This is an industry problem,” Chew repeated throughout the hearing. TikTok offers more transparency than any other American social media company, he said. But TikTok’s defense that many social media companies face similar privacy and data issues seemed to have sparked greater frustration from legislators with the state of social media, suggesting American social media companies should be concerned as well.
Tech CEOs like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Twitter’s former Jack Dorsey have all testified in front of Congress in recent years. But in today’s hearing with Chew, lawmakers appeared fed up with the continued conversations and minimal results.
Congress has held 32 hearings about privacy from Big Tech companies, according to Greg Pence, a Republican from Indiana. “We always hear apologies but it doesn’t seem to improve,” Brett Guthrie, a Republican from Kentucky, said of the hearings. “Hollow apologies are not going to reign in Big Tech,” agreed Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey. Some legislators, including Democrats from New York, California and Delaware, spoke about bills they support to regulate the social media industry during the hearing.
“This company is a picture perfect example of why this committee needs to take action on Section 230,” said Robert E. Latta, a Republican from Ohio. Section 230 is the decades-old law that allows social media companies to circumvent responsibility for the content posted on their platforms.
TikTok’s impact on children
While legislators questioned Chew about TikTok’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they also devoted a portion of the time to social media’s impact on children.
“We must save our children from Big Tech companies that continue to manipulate them for their own gain,” said Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida.
Some brought up their own children’s usage of social media in the hearing and one asked if Chew wants his children to see the violent content on TikTok. Chew emphasized that TikTok has alternative experiences for users under the age of 13 and for those aged 13 to 17, including the inability to direct message other users and host a livestream. Legislators pointed out children are tech savvy enough to bypass the age restrictions.