The most concise and perceptive summary of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony at a US congressional hearing yesterday came from technology journalist Olivia Solon.
“The TikTok hearing is mainly members of congress shouting “YES OR NO? YES OR NO?” over CEO Shou Zi Chew after questions that can’t meaningfully be answered with either,” she tweeted.
Exactly so. Many of the politicians were more interested in berating Chew than asking meaningful questions or listening to his answers. And in terms of media coverage, the loud tubthumpers drowned out the House members who DID have thoughtful and important questions about TikTok’s policies around child safety, data privacy and misinformation.
Like too many similar hearings, there was a lot of noise, a lot of egos, and not enough new information elicited on the topic at hand. The Washington Post has a good summary of what was said during the five-hour hearing, while Wired’s take neatly argues the case for the hearing proving only that TikTok and China are not the main problem, but rather Congress’s inability (so far) to tackle the bigger issue of online data privacy.
As for TikTok, the key question is whether the hearing made a US ban of its app more or less likely. “Congress seems more determined to ban TikTok than ever,” was The Verge’s take, while Techdirt’s assessment of the wider debate (not just yesterday’s hearing) is that “The US Government Has Not Justified A TikTok Ban”.
That said, Chew’s efforts to disassociate TikTok from China were somewhat undercut yesterday when the Chinese government made it clear that it is prepared to block any attempt to force ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations. Awkward.
But in short, a forced sale or outright ban in the US is no more or less likely this morning because of the hearing. Legislation paving the way for a ban continues, as do negotiations to stave off a sale with further privacy and safety commitments.
Politicians will thump some more tubs, TikTok will intensify its lobbying efforts, and the music industry – publicly silent thus far on all of the above issues – will continue to watch and wonder what happens if one of its biggest platforms for artists and music to reach fans is shut down, in our industry’s biggest market.
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