Members of Congress on TikTok are defending the app’s reach with voters

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Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., along with supporters of the popular app, leads a rally in defense of TikTok at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Rep. Jeff Jackson of North Carolina has used it to explain the complex struggle to raise the debt ceiling. California Rep. Robert Garcia used it to connect with members of the LGBTQ+ community. And Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania used it to provide an overview of Election Day results.

As Pressure against TikTok mounts In Washington, the more than two dozen members of Congress — all Democrats — who are active on the social media platform are being pressured by their peers to stop using it. Defending their presence on the platform, many say they have a responsibility as officials to meet Americans where they are — and more than 150 million are on TikTok.

“I am sensitive to the ban and acknowledge some of the safety implications. But there’s no more robust and faster way to reach young people in the United States than TikTok,” Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota told The Associated Press.

But lawmakers active on TikTok remain a distinct minority. Most in Congress are in favor of restricting the app, forcing a sale to remove ties to China, or even banning it outright. The US Armed Forces and more than half of US states have already blocked the app of official devices, as well as the federal government. Similar bans have been imposed in Denmark, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand and in the European Union.

Criticism of TikTok reached a new level last week CEO Shou Zi Chew testified for more than six hours at a controversial hearing in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers grilled Chew about the app’s impact on America’s national security and the impact on the mental health of its users. And the tough questions came from both sides of the aisle as Republicans and Democrats alike pressed Chew over TikTok’s content moderation practices, its ability to shield American data from Beijing, and its spying on journalists.

“I have to hand it to you,” said Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, when members questioned Chew about data security and harmful content. “They actually did something that hasn’t happened in the last three to four years, with the possible exception of (Russian President) Vladimir Putin. You have united Republicans and Democrats.”

While the hearing made it clear that lawmakers view TikTok as a threat, the lack of firsthand experience with the app was evident at times. Some made inaccurate and head-scratching comments and didn’t seem to understand how TikTok connects to a home Wi-Fi router or how it moderates illegal content.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who is active on the app and opposes a statewide ban, called the hearing “unworthy.”

“It was just so painful to watch,” he told the AP on Friday. “And it just goes to show that the real problem is that Congress doesn’t have a lot of expertise, whether it’s social media or, more importantly, technology.”

Garcia, who said he uses TikTok more as a consumer, said most of his peers who propose a nationwide ban tell him they’ve never used the app. “It’s going to be hard to understand unless you’re really there,” the Democrat freshman said. “And at the end of the day, a lot of TikTok is made up of harmless people dancing and funny videos.”

“It’s also incredibly rich educational content, and you learn how to bake and you learn about the political process,” he said.

MP Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., who has more than 180,000 followers on the app, held a press conference with TikTok influencers ahead of the hearing. He accused the Republicans of pushing for a ban on TikTok for political reasons.

“There are 150 million people on TikTok and we are more connected to them than Republicans are,” Bowman said. “So for them, it’s all about fear mongering and power. It’s not TikTok because again we looked the other way and allowed Facebook and other platforms to do similar things.”

Critics of TikTok in Congress say their opposition is rooted in national security, not politics. TikTok is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd appointing its executives. They fear Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over TikTok data of American users, effectively turning the app into a data-mining operation for a foreign power. The company insists it is taking steps to ensure this can never happen.

“The fundamental approach we are taking is to make it physically impossible for any government, including the Chinese government, to gain access to US user data.” General Counsel Erich Andersen said during an interview with the AP on Friday at a cybersecurity conference in California.

TikTok has highlighted a $1.5 billion proposal to store all US user data on servers owned and managed by TikTok the software giant Oracle. Access to US data would be managed by US staff through a separate entity operated independently from ByteDance and monitored by outside observers.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina took the unusual step of releasing a public statement urging all members of Congress to stop using TikTok, including from his home state – seemingly a blow to Jackson, who has more than one of the more active members is 1.8 million followers.

“I was just saying that if we’re going to have a discussion about TikTok, I think we should at least reduce the pull factor by elected officials who can just get away with it,” Tillis said this week when asked for his testimony. “I don’t have a TikTok account. That was an easy split for me.”

There have also been loud warnings about TikTok from the administration of President Joe Biden. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray have told Congress in recent weeks that TikTok poses a national security threat. Blinken told lawmakers the threat “should be ended one way or another.”

However, some members are not convinced.

“It’s like turning off your phone on a plane. you shall do. And if it was super dangerous, I don’t think we’d be allowed to have the phone on the plane,” Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, said Wednesday, “So if it was super dangerous for members of Congress to have this app on their Telephone, you have to imagine that the administration or our government would say absolutely not.

He added: “You can’t have it on a government phone and that’s good.”

Concerns about the type of content Americans encounter online or how their data is being collected by tech companies are also not new. Congress wanted to limit the amount of data technology companies tracked by consumers through a national privacy law, but that effort has stalled over the years.

TikTok supporters on Capitol Hill are urging their peers to educate themselves about social media as a whole so Congress can pass legislation that addresses broader privacy issues, rather than overly focusing on a ban on TikTok, which is political A court battle over the scope of the First Amendment could risk backlash.

“We are uninformed and misinformed. We don’t even understand how social media works. We don’t currently know anything about data brokers and how data brokers sell our data to foreign countries and foreign companies,” Bowman said. “So ban TikTok tomorrow, this stuff will still happen.”

Olly Dawes

Olly Dawes is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Olly Dawes joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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