Congress Is Going After TikTok, but What’s the End Game?
By Jessica Cohen 3/23/23
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified today at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, and in a rare show of unity, members of both parties attacked the platform for its data security practices and relationship with the Chinese government.
In his opening statement, Chew made 4 commitments for the U.S. future of TikTok: prioritize the safety of underage users, protect U.S. data via a firewall, continue to make the app a space for free expression, and increase transparency.
White House officials have told TikTok it must divest from ByteDance, its China-based parent company, or face a U.S. ban on the app. The vibes of the hearing today echoed that sentiment, with multiple Republican lawmakers — and even some Democrats — drawing connections between TikTok and the Chinese Communist Party.
The hearing came one day after NBC News published a lengthy piece examining the debate within the Democratic Party over what the potential political ramifications for liberal, young voters might be if TikTok actually gets banned on Biden’s watch. The platform is currently used by roughly 150 million Americans, and Gen Z makes up a large portion of that.
Of those young users, many are getting their news from TikTok. A study released earlier this month found that 20% of Gen Z gets political information from the platform, and activists and politicians alike are speaking out about how the potential ban could affect young voters.
“If they went ahead with banning TikTok, it would feel like a slap in the face to a lot of young Americans,” Aiden Kohn-Murphy, a 19-year-old college freshman and founder of Gen Z for Change, told NBC News. “Democrats don’t understand the political consequences this would have.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) agrees with the potential fallout. “Banning TikTok? I mean, are you trying to engage young voters or not? What are we doing here?” the former middle school principal asked. “They will absolutely stay at home. There’s no question about that.” Bowman was also a prominent speaker at a rally against the potential TikTok ban that was held outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Even Biden’s Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, who openly acknowledged her concerns about China’s involvement in TikTok, sees the political risks in banning the app. “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” she told Bloomberg. “However much I hate TikTok — and I do, because I see the addiction in the bad sh*t that it serves kids — you know, this is America.”
Despite anxiety among some Democrats, today’s hearing showed that, when it comes to concerns about the app, Washington is united in a bipartisan fashion. Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman told NBC News that banning the app might not be that bad for Democrats. “Even if Biden does this, we still have the high ground with young voters, we can still maintain the voting bloc,” Feldman explained. “I see us winning every other issue. That’s not going to change just because we ban TikTok.”