Members of Congress Making their Case: Inside the Debate on TikTok’s Reach to Voters

by Andrew Wright
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Rep. Jeff Jackson from North Carolina shared information about the battle to raise the debt limit. Rep. Robert Garcia from California talked to members of the LGBTQ+ group. And Sen. Bob Casey from Pennsylvania summarized what happened on Election Day.

Lots of people in Washington agree that politicians shouldn’t use TikTok because it’s causing trouble. But some politicians who are already on the app say they need to be there, so that they can reach all the 150 million people who use it every day.

Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota believes that the best way to communicate with young people in the U.S. is through TikTok, despite some safety concerns. He told Big Big News that he understands these risks but sees no other better and faster way to reach kids his age.

Most members of Congress want to limit or even get rid of the use of TikTok. The U.S. army and many states have already blocked the app from being used on official devices, as well as our federal government. Countries such as Denmark, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and the European Union have done something similar too.

Recently, a lot of people were focused on the CEO of TikTok – Shou Zi Chew – and his hearing at Congress. People asked him about how secure the app is in terms of national security, and it’s effects on the mental health of its users. Democrats and Republicans alike asked things like, how does TikTok pick which videos to show, would Americans data be safe from China, and if TikTok spied on journalists.

A Republican Congressman from Texas named Rep. August Pfluger complimented Chew for achieving something not a lot of people had succeeded in in the past three to four years, except for Vladimir Putin. He said that Chew was able to make both Republicans and Democrats agree with each other on something.

Lawmakers had a hearing about TikTok, but it was clear that none of them knew much about the app, and some even said some strange things. One congressman who uses TikTok and doesn’t want it to be banned called the hearing embarrassing.

He said to the Associated Press on Friday that it was so heartbreaking to watch. He said Congress doesn’t have enough know-how about social media or technology, which is an even more important issue.

Garcia said he uses TikTok a lot, but most of the people proposing a nationwide ban never even used it. He thinks it’s tough to understand if you haven’t tried it out and most videos on TikTok are just innocent dances or funny videos. Garcia also believes that there is lots of educational content on TikTok like cooking tutorials and info about the political system.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who is from New York and has a lot of followers on the app TikTok, said something at a special news conference with important people from TikTok before a hearing. He said that he thought Republicans wanted to stop people from using TikTok because they had political reasons.

Bowman said that there are 150 million people using TikTok, so we’re connected with them stronger than the Republicans. He added that the government is into fear-mongering and exercising power over this platform, but it’s not only about TikTok because allowing other social media sites to do similar things has been allowed.

Some people in Congress think TikTok might be a danger to the US. This is because it’s controlled by a Chinese tech company named ByteDance Ltd. which owns it completely. They are afraid that this company could make TikTok collect data on American users and give it to the Chinese authorities, which would not be good for our country. But, according to the company itself, they say that there is no way this can happen!

Erich Andersen, the general counsel, said during a conversation with the AP last Friday at a cybersecurity conference in California that they are making sure it is not possible for any government – even the Chinese government – to access data from U.S. users.

TikTok has proposed spending $1.5 billion to keep all of the US user data on Oracle’s servers, which they (Oracle) will take care of and manage. The data would be handled by American employees, run independently from TikTok/ByteDance, and monitored by people who are not part of the company.

Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina told everyone in Congress to stop using TikTok. He was apparently talking about one of the most popular people from his state, Jackson, who has over 1.8 million followers on this app.

This week, when asked about his opinion on TikTok, Senator Tillis said that elected officials should set a good example by not using the app. He admitted that he does not has an account there – making it easy for him to stay away.

The Biden administration is being very clear that TikTok is dangerous. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray have both said that it could be a risk to national security. Blinken even talked about how they should make sure the danger gets dealt with in one way or another. But some people don’t believe it’s a real issue.

Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, said Wednesday that it’s similar to switching off the cell phone while inside a plane – something we need to do as it might be very dangerous if we don’t. He further added that if there is any risk in letting Congress members use this “app” on their government phones, the government would have already disallowed it.

The government has been trying for a long time to pass regulations that will protect people from unwanted content online and limit the data that technology companies can gather from individuals. But so far, these efforts have not been very successful.

People who like TikTok want the people in Congress to learn more about social media so they can pass laws protecting our data. They don’t think it’s a good idea to just stop TikTok, because this could cause a big argument about free speech rights.

According to Bowman, we don’t know how social media works and we also aren’t aware of data brokers who are selling our information to foreign countries and companies. Even if TikTok was banned tomorrow, this problem would still be happening.

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