Congressional Hearing with the TikTok CEO

I have been talking to many people recently that have never been active in politics and they don’t understand why things are the way they are, so here are a couple of notes to explain the context of some of my opinions outlined below.

  • These hearings are designed, in modern times, to create snippets for the nightly news of that party’s chosen “news outlet”. They are not concerned with letting the witness speak at all. That only opens doors for more questions and the focus of these spectacles is to do just that, create a spectacle, and not answer questions. That’s why you will see interactions where a politician will ask a question like, “WHY DOES THIS APP COLLECT THE DNA OF CHILDREN THROUGH THEIR PHONE?!”” and immediately yield their time before the witness can answer. They don’t want the answers, they want the sound bites.
  • I reference “boomers” often, this isn’t meant to be a derogatory term. It is simply a shortened reference to the “Baby Boomer Generation”. I’ll make it clear when I am being derogatory. 😂
  • Most Boomer Congresspeople, even more so Republicans due to the rural nature of their party, do not understand most modern technologies, much less anything dealing with the internet. When you get into the intricacies of how social media networks work, such as algorithms, they get very lost. This results in them asking questions that don’t make any sense or just asking questions they have been handed (filtered through their younger staff members).
  • An obvious solution to the problem I just outlined is to organize voting parties and replace these people with boomer politicians with post-boomer candidates. Candidates that are more representative of our society and therefore also understand the modern world.
  • As of this afternoon, the CCP (Chinese Community Party) has announced it will block all attempted sales of portions of TikTok and/or its parent company ByteDance. So, selling a portion of the company to operate as the new TikTok US is not an option. President Biden’s statement from earlier this week was that TikTok has two options: sell to a US company or face banishment.

Congress has laid out a list of demands for TikTok, however, I believe they should make the exact same requirements for Meta, Twitter, and everyone else. These rules have the potential to improve data/privacy safety and overall customer experience/health within social networks across the board, which is something we really need moving forward. Social media, as an industry, has turned into something that is hurting us more than it is helping us.

1. Do not collect biological or health data for marketing purposes – TikTok’s CEO agrees and says they do not collect this now. He clarified that the face filter data, used for AI/AR filters, is stored locally on your device, encrypted, and then purged when no longer in use.

2. Do not create targeted marketing/ads for minors – TikTok’s CEO said they would consider this and get back to Congress with an answer.

3. Do not sell demographic data to 3rd parties and only use it for internal purposes. In other words, allow ads to target people, but don’t sell that data itself for others to use on their networks – TikTok’s CEO said he would discuss with his team how this data is being used now and get back to Congress.

4. Keep all US customer data on US soil – TikTok’s CEO agrees and this is already under discussion with Oracle, a US-owned company that already hosts data for TikTok in both the US and internationally. TikTok had initially suggested this move to servers owned by a US company should be enough, but Congress was not happy with this.

5. Allow a third-party, independent US company to review censorship and evaluate security practices – TikTok’s CEO agrees and again this is already being considered by TikTok.

6. The CCP should not have access to US customer data – TikTok’s CEO agrees and says, under oath, CCP has never requested or been given access. Furthermore, moving data to US servers would prevent this (outside of malicious attacks).

There are more demands, but you get the idea. Meta has been in multiple Congressional hearings like this and has never been held to these standards. I know TikTok is Chinese owned, but that doesn’t make what US-owned social networks do any less malicious.

Also, I would guess nearly half of the members of Congress who have asked questions today were reading from notes prepared for them. A few were clearly reading from a stack of prepared questions chaotically scrawled all over yellow legal pad papers that they could barely read, much less have an understanding of the context or technical details of what they are asking. A few even asked questions about talking points that are conservative conspiracy talking points. They sounded very convinced that they were asking a “gotcha” question when in reality it was fiction.

Today’s opening statement by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is so loaded with flatly false, partisan statements. If you were to subtract the statements that are just false or reference the CCP, you could run a find/replace on all instances of TikTok and replace them with Facebook and they would still be true.

TikTok is not unique in the way that it runs its social network just because they are a Chinese company. Yet, anytime this was brought up by TikTok’s CEO he was interrupted and told the focus was on TikTok, not those other companies.

Here are just a few examples of this from her opening statement:

  • “Within minutes of creating an account, FACEBOOK’S algorithm can promote suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders to children.”
  • “We must prevent any app, website, and platform like FACEBOOK from ever spying on Americans again and we must provide the strongest protections possible for our children.”
  • “FACEBOOK collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location, to what they type and copy, who they talk to, biometric data, and more.”
  • “Even if they’ve never been on FACEBOOK, your trackers are embedded in sites across the web.”
  • “FACEBOOK has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance, and more manipulation.”
  • “FACEBOOK is also a portal for drug dealers to sell illicit fentanyl that China has banned, yet, is helping Mexican cartels produce, send across our border, and poison our children.”

Congressman Frank Pallone’s (D-NJ) opening statement, and follow-up questions, were no better. He flatly said that he wouldn’t believe anything Mr. Chew said in the hearing, no matter what “picture he is attempting to paint”. He was utterly disrespectful to the witness in both his approach and his mannerisms.

Congresswoman Eshoo (D-CA) asked about the CCP having access to our user data. Mr. Chew answered her perfectly by stating that he “has seen no evidence that this has happened”, he has “never spoken to a Chinese government official while CEO of TikTok”, and their plan is to “move all US customer data to a server on US soil overseen by US personnel”. Even when answering a question with a detailed answer that is in the affirmative, the congresspeople would say, “I will assume that is a no”. It’s absurd.

Many of the members of Congress were making it clear that this will be a chance to look at revising or even appealing Section 230. That in itself is a nasty can of worms that they have attempted to tip over before. Section 230 is the wall that was set up by Congress to protect American internet companies from the liability of content posted on their sites by its users.

They made it very clear that they don’t care for TikTok because it is Chinese-owned and it doesn’t matter what he says – they are going to ban it. They seem to act like Americans will treat them like heroes for banning this app and they aren’t aware that banning TikTok will have a huge backlash effect on their ability to stay in power. If you are a TikTok user, you know what I am referring to. If you aren’t a TikTok user, I don’t know how to explain the large impact this app has had on our communities. A large number of Americans receive income from their TikTok accounts. A large number (in excess of 5 million as of today per the TikTok CEO) of American businesses maintain TikTok as a marketing channel and/or source of income. An even larger number of Americans have developed relationships of differing strengths with other TikTok users. Americans love TikTok. It’s that simple.

Again, if they feel they need to regulate social media they should create a bill, just like they have proposed for TikTok, and apply it to all social networks. Fix it all with one sweeping bill, but don’t target TikTok because it is a Chinese company.

They are just shaking in their boots that 150M Americans (and climbing) are spending 90 minutes a day seeing real videos from real Americans (and “worse” – foreign citizens with an outside perspective of our country, heaven forbid!) and not getting their ”news” filtered by talking heads that are paid by corporations that have lobbyists who have purchased your politicians. About 60% of Democrats in Congress have stocks in big pharma, while about 60% of the Republicans have stocks in fossil fuels. How about making that illegal? They are lying to you for profit.

TikTok skips all those steps and connects us to each other – in real-time. No other social network has pulled that off, because the principle of TikTok is that I can create commentary content by using your original content within seconds or minutes, with no technical know-how at all.

Just press the big red button and speak your opinion.

  • Steven Trotter is a graphic designer (UX/UI, web & branding), photographer, and maker living and working on the Oregon Coast. Trotter Steven