Lawmakers Accuse TikTok CEO Of Threatening Lives

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chow was grilled by members of Congress earlier this week, being asked to defend content threatening lawmakers and videos that appear to glorify suicide.

By Kevin C. Neece | Published

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On Tuesday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced pointed questions, fiery criticism, and the threat of a nationwide ban from both sides of the political aisle in a hearing before a House committee, including the charge that content on the social media platform is leading directly to people’s deaths. Pointing to videos on the site that promote suicide, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) expressed dismay that TikTok’s content is “literally leading to death,” Deadline reports. While Chew said the app provides information for users who type about suicide, he would not say whether he had “full responsibility” over it’s algorithms.

There was even discussion of a post that potentially endangered the lives of the Energy and Commerce Committee members who conducted the hearing. The video featured the name of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chair of the committee, the date of the hearing, and an image of an assault weapon. Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) showed the video, which she said had been on TikTok for 41 days without being removed. She then pressed Chew on how the committee believed that he could protect some 150 million American users of the platform when he could not protect the people in the room with him.

After returning from a break, Chew said he had been informed that the video had just been taken down.

Remarkably, Democrats on the committee seemed to largely agree with the criticisms brought by their Republican colleagues. In fact, Deadline reports that Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) thanked Mr. Chew for bringing members of the two parties together. Also encouraged by the show of unity were Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who co-authored a bipartisan bill to ban TikTok and similar apps with foreign ties.

Apart from the types of content that seem to proliferate unchecked on the social media powerhouse, major concerns surrounding its use relate to privacy and government surveillance. While Chew tried to redirect the conversation to TikTok’s Texas Project, which would firewall all US user data in one location with oversight from a third party, representatives continually pushed back, with Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-TX) grilling the CEO about what guarantees he could make regarding the present state of user privacy. Members of the committee were also suspicious of TikTok’s potential ties to the Chinese government, citing Chinese law that compels the company to fully cooperate with government intelligence agencies if asked to do so.

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Overall, the hearing seemed a frustrating exchange for lawmakers who, while they differed to some degree on their views of the implications of TikTok’s practices, policies, and political connections, seemed united in their views of Chew. From the constant pushing of the CEO to be more forthcoming, it seemed clear that he was seen as evasive and untrustworthy. This made Warner and Thune all the more confident that their proposed legislation would pass.

TikTok released a somewhat unsurprising rebuke of the proceedings, stating that, in their view, the hearing had been overwhelmed by “political grandstanding” and had failed to result in a conversation about the issues Chew had been prepared to address. The statement again made mention of the Texas Project and highlighted the company’s future plans for increased privacy while also continuing to sidestep concerns about present conditions on the app. Though there was also mention in the statement of “youth safety,” the hearing highlighted TikTok’s unwillingness or inability to quickly and effectively address concerns regarding potentially dangerous content on its platform.

The company’s name, therefore, seems to now reflect a countdown to a crisis regarding its continued existence in the US marketplace, coming at a time when changes to the platform will charge users for previously free content.