TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew proved evasive on direct questions about China’s human rights abuses after repeatedly insisting that he does not take orders from his platform’s parent company or party officials.
“Do you agree that the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?” Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-AZ, asked at the start of her allotted time during the House Energy And Commerce Committee hearing on TikTok’s security concerns Thursday.
“If you use our app, and you open it, you will see our users who give all sorts of content,” Chew said before getting cut off.
“That’s not what I said,” Lesko said, then repeated her question.
When put on the spot, Chew said, “While it is deeply concerning to hear about all accounts of human rights abuse, my role here is to explain what our platform does,” and again was cut off.
When asked a third time, with Lesko accusing Chew of being “evasive” on a “pretty easy question,” Chew stressed, “Congresswoman, I am here to describe TikTok and what we do as a platform, and as a platform, we allow our users to freely express their views on this issue and any other issue that matters to them.
“Well, you didn’t answer the question,” Lesko said.
Michael Beckerman, Head of Public Policy in the Americas for TikTok and regularly touted as the company’s top lobbyist, repeatedly dodged the question during an interview in December. Beckerman responded to the question of China’s treatment of the Uyghur population by saying, “That’s not something that I focus on,” adding that TikTok does “not censor content on behalf of any government.”
When pressed again to answer the question, Beckerman said, “I’m just not an expert on what’s happening in China, so it’s not an area that I’m focusing on. But you can look on the app, and you’ll find plenty of content about that as well,” according to National Review.
Lesko followed up her first hit with a list of major countries, including the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand and Canada, that have banned TikTok from government devices for security concerns, asking how “all these countries … have been wrong” about the app’s security threat.
Chew said he is “eagerly awaiting discussions” to address the issue. He also dodged questions from Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., on whether parent company ByteDance is a Chinese company, saying that ByteDance “owns many businesses and operates in China.”
“Is it a Chinese company or not?” Cardenas asked, to which Chew said he “frequently” discussed the topic of what to consider a “global company,” but Cardenas ultimately gave up on trying to get a straight answer.
Earlier in the hearing, Cardenas described Chew as “dancing” around questions, with other congressional members accusing Chew of providing “nebulous” answers to their questions.
Regarding the recently concluded press conference with TikTok CEO Shou Chew, the following statement is attributable to a TikTok spokesperson Can be attributed to Brooke Oberwetter or TikTok spokesperson.
Shou came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety. Also not mentioned today by members of the Committee: the livelihoods of the 5 million businesses on TikTok or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans.