Lawmakers have said they’re moving forward with plans for a national ban on TikTok, as users including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez take to the app to protest.
The snowballing effort to take action against TikTok comes after company chief Shou Zi Chew appeared before a US House committee for five hours on Thursday, where lawmakers from both parties grilled him about national security and other concerns involving the app.
Following the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez made her first ever TikTok to speak out against a potential ban – highlighting the unprecedented nature of such an action. Meanwhile, thousands of video edits flooded the app making fun of moments in the hearing. Young users have skewered politicians as out of touch for questions about TikTok’s technology. “This is the most boomer thing I have ever seen,” one caption reads on a video of a member of Congress accusing TikTok of tracking users’ pupil dilation.
The grassroots social media effort highlights a tension between the app’s growing popularity and lawmakers’ push to ban it. TikTok now has more than 150 million users in the US.
Despite the protests, authorities appear set on pushing ahead with restricting the platform. On Sunday, Kevin McCarthy, the US House of Representatives speaker, said lawmakers will move forward with legislation to address national security concerns about TikTok, alleging China’s government has had access to the app’s user data.
In the United States, there are growing calls to ban TikTok, owned by China-based company ByteDance, or to pass bipartisan legislation to give Joe Biden’s administration legal authority to seek a ban. Devices owned by the US government were recently banned from having the app installed.
“The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist arty,” McCarthy said on Twitter.
In Thursday’s hearing, the TikTok CEO was asked if of the app has spied on Americans at Beijing’s request. “No,” Chew said. Outside of the hearing, a group of more than 30 content creators protested the potential ban, holding signs that said “Keep TikTok.”
Republican congressman Neal Dunn referenced the company’s disclosure in December that some China-based employees at ByteDance improperly accessed TikTok user data of two journalists and were no longer employed by the company. He repeated his question about whether ByteDance was spying.
“I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it,” Chew said. He went on to describe the reports as involving an “internal investigation” before being cut off.
Speaker McCarthy, a Republican, said in a tweet on Sunday, “It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true – China has access to TikTok user data.”
The company says it has spent more than $1.5bn on data security efforts under a planned dubbed “Project Texas”, which aims to alleviate lawmakers’ concerns by relocating all US user data to centers outside of China, through a partnership with the Texas-based firm Oracle.
But rather than appease lawmakers’ concerns, Chew’s appearance before Congress on Thursday “actually increased the likelihood that Congress will take some action”, Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the Republican chair of the House select committee on the Chinese Communist party, told ABC News on Sunday.
Reuters contributed reporting