The Singapore-born TikTok CEO Shou Chew faced five hours of questioning in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the privacy, safety and morality of his highly popular short-form video app on March 23. Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers began the meeting by voicing concerns about data privacy, ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the harm it can cause to young users.
“To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see, and exploit for future generations,” Rodgers said in an interview with (C-SPAN).
An issue at the forefront of many representatives’ concerns was not TikTok itself, but its parent company, ByteDance. Headquartered in Beijing, China, many raised concerns of ByteDance’s alleged connections with the Chinese Communist Party. Chew rejected these claims in his opening statement.
“ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government,” Chew said. “It’s a private company.” (C-SPAN)
Another point of concern for representatives was the expansiveness of these issues across social media as a whole. Many highlighted that they don’t solely apply to TikTok.
“The potential security, privacy, content manipulation concerns raised about TikTok are really not unique to us. The same issues apply to other companies,” Chew noted.
When discussing the addictive nature of these social media platforms, Representative Kathy Castor cited Facebook and Instagram specifically. Like many users, University of Maine sophomore Ethan Woods has a complicated relationship with TikTok and its addictive characteristics.
“The thing I like most about TikTok is also the reason I’ve come to dislike it so much: the fact that it’s so easy to get into and its ability to keep you engaged for extended periods, sometimes without you even realizing it,” Woods said.
As a computer engineering major and a member of the UMaine Cybersecurity Team, Woods agrees with many representatives who have raised concerns about data privacy. He, however, stresses the daunting magnitude of this task.
“…It’s difficult to introduce data privacy legislation due to a multitude of factors, many of which are related to the complexity of the technology sector,” Woods said. “TikTok, for example, has only been around for less than five years and has completely changed the game when it comes to how we consume information. This is well-represented by other platforms embracing many of TikTok’s core concepts (Youtube Shorts, Instagram Reels).”
Woods says that in addition to the rapid changes in technology happening every day, this makes legislators unable to effectively approach the issue.
Despite this overwhelmingly large task, many stress that data privacy legislation is long overdue and necessary.
“Ultimately, what the US needs is well-informed members of the data privacy and data management sector to come together in conjunction with national security agencies and draft federal legislation on the issue of user data privacy,” Woods said.
In rejection of the harmful and addictive nature of TikTok, some students have avoided the platform altogether. University of Maine second-year student Fisher Clark is one of them.
“I’ve never used Tiktok for a few reasons. I find myself already being tethered to social media apps like YouTube or Instagram and I don’t like the short format concept of TikTok, as I’ve found myself getting distracted for hours on other social media apps’ similar features without any real memory of what I watched,” Clark said.
Chair Rodgers referenced a desired banning of TikTok during her opening statement but no conclusive decision has been made. Although a potential ban of TikTok might not personally impact some users, it would be a politically monumental decision.
“Banning TikTok would set the precedent that for any number of reasons, a legitimate source of information, which TikTok falls under the umbrella of, could be forcefully removed if there was enough support on the national level, an impossibly dangerous concept,” Woods said.
It is an issue which the American people and the American government are attempting to navigate in the wake of ever-changing and ever-growing technology.
Since the testimony, trends on the TikTok platform have surfaced poking fun at the representatives and their questions, making it obvious how many users feel about both the testimony and the discussion about a ban. Some users have even begun posting premature and heartfelt goodbye videos in their uncertainty about the app’s future.
The testimony can be viewed through C-SPAN at