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What the Hell Happened: TikTok Legal Drama

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday, March 23, 2023.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday, March 23, 2023. By Courtesy of Tom Williams / Wikimedia Commons
By Rachel A. Beard, Crimson Staff Writer

TikTok has taken the world by storm, inspiring countless viral dance crazes and making stars out of everyday users. In fact, the app hosts over 150 million Americans — almost half of the United States' entire population. But for all its fun and games, TikTok has recently found itself in the crosshairs of Congress, which has threatened to ban the app over concerns about data privacy and national security. While one would think that this case is serious business — the congressional hearing — which was done before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, seemed anything but. The hearing was a painful watch as Congress members refused to let the CEO Shou Zi Chew speak and asked inane questions such as whether TikTok connects to the Wi-Fi.

Concerns over TikTok’s national security capacity stem from fears that TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, is allegedly sharing user data with the Chinese government or that the app may be used for propaganda or disinformation campaigns. However, it is unclear whether Congress has evidence for these claims; New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez posted a TikTok where she claimed that Congress had not received a formal briefing, which is standard protocol when facing a national security threat.

Data collection is a real problem with all social media apps, not just TikTok. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, was found to violate privacy laws in 2022 and was fined a whopping $275 million in the E.U.

So why is the government only threatening to ban TikTok? Why not other social media platforms that may have the same issues? Perhaps it is because several members of Congress own stocks in social media companies like Meta. In 2022, Meta also paid for intense lobbying among GOP party members to spread messages about the danger of TikTok.

Many users came to the platform to discuss the hearing, including user @callmebelly.

“I am so embarrassed to call myself an American today, so embarrassed. The disrespect in that Congress room, the arrogance, the lack of knowledge, the racism, all of it was absolutely disgusting,” Elliot said.

One example of this lack of knowledge was Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter seemingly not understanding how filters work, questioning why TikTok would need to see a person’s eyes for the sunglass filter to work.

“Why do you need to see where the eyes are if you’re not seeing if they’re dilated?” Carter said in a recording of the congressional hearing.

On a more amusing note, Chew has gained popularity since the hearing, with some users making thirst traps of the CEO presenting his testimony.

TikTok user @rheaisna commented, “he’s our tiktok daddy fr,” under the TikTok linked above.

Despite these legal troubles, the popularity of the app has not been affected whatsoever — if anything, the cultural powerhouse that is the app has only become more mainstream. As confusing as the current situation appears to be, it’s clear that a future without TikTok would be just as challenging to comprehend.

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