House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Sunday that Congress would be taking up legislation against TikTok this week.
“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,” McCarthy tweeted Sunday. “The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”
In response Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning reportedly claimed the U.S. made a presumption of guilt against TikTok without presenting any evidence that threatens its national security.
“U.S. should respect fair competition, and stop suppressing foreign companies,” Mao said, according to Reuters, when asked about U.S. lawmakers taking up the bill.
The comment from a Chinese government official regarding TikTok alone adds context as the app itself has tried to distance itself and downplay its ties to parent company ByteDance and the CCP.
During a nearly six-hour congressional hearing Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew insisted the platform has never turned over user data to the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked.
But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, the FBI and other intelligence agencies have raised concerns that Chinese law compels Chinese companies like ByteDance to hand over data to the government for whatever purposes it deems to involve national security.
There’s also concern Beijing might try to push pro-CCP narratives or misinformation through the platform to divide the American people.
“I want to say this to all the teenagers out there, and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch and don’t know what we’re talking about, trying to take your favorite app,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said during the hearing. “You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but you will be one day.”
In an appearance on “ABC News Sunday,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who chairs the House select committee on U.S. competition with China, said he believed Chew’s testimony “increased the likelihood Congress would take some action” whether that be legislation pushing for an all out ban or for a forced sale of TikTok to an American company.
“The only reason that would explain his evasiveness is fear of angering his overlords in the Chinese Communist Party,” Gallagher said of Chew’s testimony.
“The key part that is missing from Project Texas’s mitigation strategy is control of the algorithm,” Gallagher said of TikTok’s proposed plan to transfer U.S. user data to be stored on American soil. “That’s what we really need to address. It’s not just ex-filtrating data from an American phone. It’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm, control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections. They’ve actually united Republicans and Democrats out of a concern of allowing the CCP to control the most dominant media platform in America.”
“It seems clear that much of America did not experience the hearing the same way many members of Congress and the media did,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News Digital Monday. “Shou came prepared to answer questions about national security, data privacy, and the safety of teens who use our service, but instead was met with interruptions and yes/no questions as he tried to set the record straight. He was also offered no feedback on why lawmakers believe our commitments through Project Texas are insufficient to address their security concerns. And Americans noticed.”
TikTok itself, which touts 150 million active users in the United States, has been trying to leverage its popularity by sending dozens of influencers to Congress to lobby against a ban and ramping up a broader public relations campaign.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was criticized for defending TikTok after it was revealed parent company ByteDance gave six-figure donations to the Black and Hispanic caucus nonprofits.
In her first TikTok shared Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez, using the handle @aocinthehouse, said she opposed a national ban of the app.
In downplaying the possible national security threat, she said the issue was more of a policy matter.
ByteDance donated $150,000 to both the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Foundation in December, its lobbying contribution report shows.
AOC is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) advisory council.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans aged 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16% of all teens say they use it almost constantly.
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