Understanding the Concerns Surrounding TikTok’s Ownership and Data Storage

Today’s hearing on child safety was truly a significant event. The Senate Judiciary Committee wisely called upon the CEOs of various social media platforms, including X, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and Discord, to address the potential dangers their services pose for children. Families in attendance, many of whom had experienced their own children being targeted by predators or harmed online, awaited answers from these tech giants with earnest hope.

A Predictable Tangent: TikTok’s Ownership

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the proceedings took an unexpected turn when the topic of TikTok’s ownership arose. TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has faced persistent scrutiny in the past. While last year’s attempts to ban the platform ultimately fizzled out, legitimate concerns remain about its data storage policies and the potential influence the Chinese government holds over its moderation practices.

Straying from the Objective: TikTok’s Un-American Origins

During the hearing, lawmakers veered off course, seemingly determined to emphasize TikTok’s un-American origins. One senator, in particular, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), persisted in pressing TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about his citizenship. Despite Chew’s well-known Singaporean citizenship, Sen. Cotton repeatedly probed into his allegiance, seemingly hoping to catch him off guard.

Sen. Cotton’s line of questioning during the hearing was aptly described by The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell as “McCarthy-esque.” Chew’s connection to China and his relationship with the Chinese Communist Party were thoroughly discussed when he testified before Congress last year. The relevance of this line of interrogation to the topic of child safety remains unclear.

Attempting to make the case that China exercises undue influence over TikTok through its ownership is a dubious claim at best. Numerous companies, such as Apple, have faced allegations of cozying up to the Chinese government without insinuations of secret communism on the part of their leaders. It is clear that this line of questioning intentionally leverages Chew’s foreignness, even when it bears no relevance to the matter at hand.

Today’s child safety hearing, while initially focused and sincere, ultimately deviated into a predictable tangent involving TikTok’s ownership and the foreign background of its CEO. The concerns surrounding TikTok’s data storage policies and Chinese government influence are indeed genuine and warrant discussion. However, it is crucial to approach these issues with fairness, without resorting to unwarranted associations or xenophobic questioning. TikTok’s impact on child safety should be the primary concern, rather than sidetracking the conversation with irrelevant topics.

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