TikTok and its CEO are fighting to save the app in the US

(CNN) At the Harvard Business Review conference earlier this month, where Administrators, professors and artists Appearing for talks on corporate leadership and emotional intelligence, Show Chew tried to save his company.

In his speech, TikTok CEO Chew said the social network would not provide US user data to the Chinese government and had never been asked to do so. Chew emphasized the steps TikTok has taken to protect US user data. And four separate times, Chew told the audience that the site’s mission is to “inspire creativity and bring joy” to users.

The Harvard event was one of several media appearances Chew has made in recent weeks amid growing scrutiny of TikTok and himself. On Thursday, Chew is set to testify before a congressional committee for the first time about “TikTok’s consumer privacy and data protection practices, the sites’ impact on children, and its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.” group. Meanwhile, the central authorities now Requests Chinese owners of the app They could sell their stake in the social media platform or risk facing a US ban on the app.

Chew, a Singaporean who has largely been out of the spotlight since acquiring TikTok in 2021, recently sat down for interviews with several American newspapers and highlighted the app’s wide reach in a video on the corporate TikTok account this week. He revealed that there are now more than 150 million users in the US.

“It’s coming to connect, create, share, learn or have fun with almost half of America,” says Chew, who wears a hoodie and T-shirt like the other American tech executives in the clip. “It comes at a pivotal moment for us. Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok, and now it could take away TikTok from your 150 million people.”

Chew’s heightened visibility appears to be part of a larger messaging campaign by TikTok to raise its profile in the United States and remind voters — and their representatives — how essential the social network is to American culture.

A press conference is scheduled for Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol with dozens of social media creators, some of whom flew there via TikTok. The company pays for ads to a Beltway audience. And last week it released documentaries highlighting American small business owners who rely on the platform for their livelihoods.

Tik Tok CEO Shou Chew speaks during the New York Times Dealbook Summit at the Apple Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 30, 2022 in New York City.

Behind the scenes, there is also Mars He met Congress members And TikTok recently invited researchers and academics to its Washington, DC, offices to learn more about how it is working through its parent company ByteDance to address lawmakers’ concerns about its ties to China. Its parent company has stepped up federal lobbying, spending more than $5 million last year. Data monitored by OpenSecrets.

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From their perspective, it’s life or death for TikTok, said Justin Sherman, CEO of Global Cyber ​​Strategies, a D.C.-based research and consulting firm, and one of the TikTok researchers invited to explain the “Texas Project.” A $1.5 billion initiative to address lawmakers’ security concerns. “They throw everything they can at the problem.”

TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown said in a statement, “A U.S. ban on TikTok could have a direct impact on the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Lawmakers in Washington need to hear directly from the people discussing TikTok and the people directly affected by their decisions.”

TikTok’s messaging campaign

For much of the past year, TikTok has been rolling out new features and policies to address privacy and security concerns that the Chinese government could gain access to US user data. Harmful to some young users.

TikTok recently set the default One hour daily screen time limit One of the most aggressive moves by a social media company is to block every account of users under the age of 18 to prevent teenagers from endlessly scrolling. It released a feature aimed at giving users more information about why it’s so powerful The algorithm recommends certain videos. And the company promised more Transparency for researchers.

In response to concerns about its parent company’s ties to China, TikTok has taken several steps to more clearly separate its US operations and user data from other parts of the company. It includes Moving all of its US user data to Oracle’s cloud platformIt claims to host “100% US user traffic”.

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The messaging campaign ramped up this week ahead of the trial. TikTok released updated social guidelines for content, which the company designed “based on our commitment to uphold human rights and aligned with international legal frameworks.” Chew reiterated TikTok’s independence from China.

“I understand that the concerns stem from the mistaken belief that TikTok’s corporate structure is attracting the attention of the Chinese government or sharing information about US users with the Chinese government,” Chew said in prepared comments ahead of testimony before Congress. “This is a definite lie.”

At the same time, TikTok is now betting on the strategy of U.S. tech companies, which have faced scrutiny for other reasons, to improve their impact on small businesses in the U.S., including the CEO’s prepared remarks and a Short documentaries It was released last week under the title “TikTok Sparks Good.”

The series featured inspiring stories of American small business owners and creators. The first of the 60-second clips features a Mississippi soap producer who built his company on the app, and the second features an educator who quit his job to focus on sharing informational videos on TikTok. According to

“Because of TikTok, I reach millions of families who want to teach their children how to read,” says the educator.

Dozens of TikTok creators opposing the ban will hold a press conference on the Capitol grounds Wednesday evening with Congressman Jamal Bowman, a Democrat from New York. TikTok has fired some creators, the company confirmed to CNN. (The move was first reported.)

Among the list of expected participants is a disabled Asian American creator who uses her platform to fight ableism. A small business owner from South Carolina An Ohio-based chef who started a greeting card company via TikTok and built her bakery business through the app. Some creators have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers on TikTok.

‘a little late’

Even with these efforts, Sherman expressed some skepticism about how promising the PR push would be, largely because of how divided Washington is right now.

“Not everyone wants a ban,” he said. “For some lawmakers, TikTok is taking all these steps to address security concerns.”

But for others it doesn’t move the needle. “Some lawmakers, obviously, in terms of what ads TikTok puts out, what promises it makes on its blog about freedom, data privacy … they see a risk of Chinese government data access and/or influence over content being unstoppable. So we’re going to push for a complete ban.”

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“For the most part, TikTok’s lobbying efforts so far have been pretty ineffective,” said Lindsay Gorman, a senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund’s Coalition for the Defense of Democracy and a former Biden administration adviser.

The problem is two-fold. First, even if TikTok takes steps to improve its security today, as it is doing with the Texas project, concerns persist that it is always “one update away from being vulnerable.” Second, TikTok’s PR efforts in Washington won’t undo earlier moments when the company “shot itself in the foot” by making what it said were “false statements” to Congress, only to have revelations come out that show they were false. ”

After the launch, Trump-era calls for a TikTok ban appeared to fade in Washington. BuzzFeed In 2021, it was reported that US user data was repeatedly accessed from China and “all found in China”. The details in the report contradicted comments a TikTok executive made before a Senate committee earlier that year, saying that a US-based security committee determines who can access US user data from China. Following the report, TikTok once again became a hot button issue in the nation’s capital.

But even as skepticism grew among US lawmakers, so did the app’s popularity in the country.

“I think TikTok’s strongest argument to date is its appeal to its creator user base,” Gorman said. But for some lawmakers with security concerns, the latest push “may be too late.”

In his TikTok video on Tuesday, Chew appealed directly to the app’s users. The CEO asked them to write in the comments section to share “what you want your elected representatives to know about what you love about TikTok.”

The top comment on the clip, which has more than 50,000 likes: “You know something’s wrong when it’s time to show the boss 😂”

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