OPINION: The TikTok hearing is rooted in ignorance and racism

Any American can attest that the bipartisan mentality in the nation is pretty out of control. But the possible ban of TikTok has been one of the greatest uniters of Republicans and Democrats in power, and potentially one of the greatest dividers between older and younger generations.

If you’re active on TikTok, or anywhere on the Internet, you’ve heard about the congressional hearing with the CEO of TikTok. For those of you that haven’t, U.S. leaders are considering banning TikTok from America.

According to NPR, a lot of the issue lies within TikTok’s ownership. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a company based in Beijing. ByteDance is therefore compliant with Chinese laws that would force it to hand over user data to the government.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced an ultimately inconclusive hearing with U.S. lawmakers. U.S. leaders implored him to make a decision: remove ties with ByteDance’s Chinese roots or risk being banned in the United States (and losing a good chunk of its users and, therefore, revenue).

In the hearing, lawmakers grew pretty nasty with Chew. Chew remained dignified, though clearly unsettled, and kept to his facts, reminding lawmakers that “you can’t prove a negative” in reference to ByteDance having given the Chinese government American data.
Either way, though, lawmakers don’t believe Chew’s claims. The hearing seemed to be more about getting Chew to “crack” than reach an understanding or even make any leeway.

Now, having your data sold sounds scary, especially in light of the spy balloon incident with China, but hear me out.

TikTok has become so ingrained in our culture that a ban would be simply unprecedented. TikTok has risen from 100 million to 150 million users since 2020. TikTok is a source of demystifying the human experience.

If you open TikTok, you’ll find just about anything: dances, comedy, recipes, body acceptance and, most of all, you’ll find people of a different human experience than you.

TikTok has become so important that virtually every other social media platform has attempted to replicate it: YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, whatever Facebook has going on. If it’s not a vain attempt to remake TikTok’s unique setup, then it’s literally just reposted videos from TikTok.

Here’s what a Texan Republican Congressman, Dan Crenshaw said: “You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but it will be one day when you do care about it. And here’s the real problem — with data comes power. They can choose what you see and how you see it. They can make you believe things that are not true. They can encourage you to engage in behavior that will destroy your life. Even if it is not happening yet, it could in the future.”

If that quote strikes fear in your heart, open up Facebook for me really quick. Look at the ads: oh, that t-shirt you liked from a promoted post on Instagram. That weird pasta maker you almost bought from Amazon. We all joke about our phones listening to us, but if you think your data is anything sacred, or has ever been, then you’d be better off living off the grid, or at least in another country.

Make no mistake: the problem with TikTok is not one of data (Chew even promised to delete U.S. data by the end of the year), but of racism, and the same kind of fear mongering Asians faced during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The differences in how American officials have treated Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew are stark. And, if you were curious, Facebook is still alive and well.

If TikTok was a company based in Dallas or Portland, the CEO would not be facing this debate. The issue that U.S. leaders have with Chew is not because he is in possession of Americans’ information (Chew even promised to delete the data by the end of the year). If you need a reason why Chew is being interviewed, it’s right in front of you.

And, to quote Wendigoon’s trending TikTok audio, “the next time that somebody tells you the government wouldn’t do that, oh yes, they would.”