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TikTok CEO on spying allegations: ‘I don’t think spying is the right way to describe it’

Published Mar 23rd, 2023 8:47PM EDT
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew
Image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

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For some questions in life, there is only one correct answer. Questions like: Does this shirt make me look fat? Do you still love me? Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but? It’s when you start quibbling over the definition of this or that word in response to those questions that you start to look like … well, like TikTok CEO Shou Chew during his testimony at a congressional hearing on Thursday. At one point, he dodged a congressman’s question about whether TikTok spies on US users by nitpicking over the choice of the word “spying.”

The query from Florida Republican congressman Neal Dunn, with a reference to TikTok’s parent company, was this: “Has ByteDance spied on Americans at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Chew’s answer: “I don’t think spying is the right way to describe it…”

TikTok to Congress: We don’t (air quotes) spy – pick a different word

The TikTok CEO’s participation in Thursday’s congressional hearing (and his mishandling of what should have been one of the easiest layups of a question) was the most high-profile component of what’s evolved into a multi-faceted gambit by the company — under fire for accusations of being too close or beholden to Chinese authorities — to stop the looming implementation of a US ban.

In addition to his testimony, the company also did the following:

  • TikTok brought an army of influencers to descend on Washington DC over three days this week, courting lawmakers in the hopes of staving off a ban.
  • The company has been showering major US media outlets with cash, paying for prominent messaging space and sponsorships connected to the likes of The Washington Post, Politico, and Axios.
  • And its CEO shared a TikTok video of himself earlier this week, raving that now essentially half of the entire US population uses TikTok — and that 5 million accounts belong to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Chew’s performance during the congressional hearing, nevertheless, doesn’t seem to have won as many new supporters as the company probably needed it to. “I don’t see any way TikTok isn’t banned at this point,” Founders Fund vice president Mike Solana tweeted on Thursday. “Bi-partisan certainty the CCP is spying on 150 million Americans. They’re furious. I have never seen them lock-step in a hearing like this.”

‘Your platform should be banned’

Indeed, it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen such bipartisanship in the blood sport that is congressional politics. Two US Senators, for example (Mark Warner, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican) have a bill pending that would allow the US Commerce Secretary to ban TikTok — as well as any other app connected to a foreign country.

They released a statement in which they expressed how encouraged they feel over the “quick momentum and strong bipartisan support for our legislation that will only grow following today’s testimony.” Likewise, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNN that he’s in favor of legislation banning the app. The House Commerce Committee chairwoman also told Chew today that she thinks “your platform should be banned.”

To paraphrase the man himself, I think bipartisan is definitely the right way to describe it.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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