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TikTok CEO faces Congress, brings paid cheer squad of influencers as backup

TikTok chief executive Shou Chew has fronted a largely aggressive US congressional committee in Washington DC overnight, but the boss of the social media app did not come alone.

user icon David Hollingworth
Fri, 24 Mar 2023
TikTok CEO faces Congress, brings paid cheer squad of influencers as backup
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As he answered questions regarding privacy concerns and the safety of TikTok’s younger users, a posse of TikTok fans gathered outside to support Chew and the app. However, many of the influencers present had been brought to the US capitol on TikTok’s own dime, with the company stumping airfares and even a free hotel stay.

The influencers — who could bring a plus one, also paid for by TikTok — were part of TikTok’s plan to present the app as a wholesome education tool, as well as a source of income and employment for many of its users.

Many of the influencers were also able to meet their representatives in Congress, further making the case in defence of the embattled app.

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“More than 150 million Americans, including 5 million US businesses, rely on TikTok to innovate, find community, and support their livelihoods,” TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown told Wired. “A US ban on TikTok could have a direct impact on the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok should hear firsthand from people whose lives would be directly affected by their decisions.”

However, the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, before which Chew was being grilled, were not so sure of TikTok’s motives. After making his presentation — which Cyber Security Connect covered yesterday (23 March) — Chew faced hours of questioning from sometimes combative members of Congress. One Congressman recalled the efforts of another social media CEO in Washington.

“We are frustrated with TikTok … and yes, you keep mentioning that there are industry issues that not only TikTok faces but others,” Californian Democrat Tony Cárdenas told Chew, according to the Guardian. “You remind me a lot of [Mark] Zuckerberg ... when he came here, I said he reminds me of Fred Astaire: a good dancer with words. And you are doing the same today. A lot of your answers are a bit nebulous, they’re not yes or no.”

Chew, however, stuck by what he said in his 10-page testimony: “Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country.”

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has worked for a range of print and online titles in his career. He is enjoying getting to grips with cyber security, especially when it lets him talk about Lego.

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