TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew posted an urgent video on the app on Tuesday (March 21) that aimed to demonstrate how ingrained TikTok is in the lives of more than 150 million Americans at a time when the app is under threat of being banned (again).
Chew is set to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday. His appearance comes as politicians and regulators repeatedly express concern that TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, will turn user data over to the Chinese government. (TikTok has repeatedly denied these allegations.) Earlier this month, TikTok said the U.S. government had asked Bytedance to sell the app or face a ban, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Chew’s video started out celebratory and seemed couched in terms straight out of U.S. political debates, emphasizing the app’s reach and its potential economic impact. “I’m super excited to announce that more than 150 million Americans are on TikTok,” Chew said. The app had previously touted 100 million U.S. users in 2020. (It has over 1 billion active users globally.)
“That’s almost half the U.S. coming to TikTok to connect, to create, to share, to learn, or just to have some fun,” Chew continued. “This includes 5 million businesses that use TikTok to reach their customers. And the majority of these are small and medium businesses.”
But this triumphant tone quickly gave way to a warning. “Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok,” Chew added. “This could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.” He called this a “pivotal moment” for the app and asked users to leave comments noting “what they love about TikTok” so he could pass those on during his meetings in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. government’s scrutiny of TikTok is not new; President Trump threatened to ban the app back in 2020. (India did ban the app that year.) TikTok has been in lengthy talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to try to come up with a solution that allays fears about the way it handles users’ data, but these negotiations appear to have made little headway. The U.S. government recently banned TikTok from all federal devices.
TikTok spokespeople have described the threat of a larger ban as “little more than political theater.”
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem,” a spokeswoman for TikTok told The Associated Press earlier this month. “A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
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