TikTok’s Very Bad Day: China’s biggest honeypot comes to Washington

Representative Dan Crenshaw summed up: “I want to thank Mr. Chew for bringing Republicans and Democrats together.” And that was probably the most striking aspect of the testimony of TikTok CEO Shou Chew this week before the House Energy & Commerce Committee–there were no friends in the House. And that is pretty unusual for an enterprise like TikTok that spreads the gold around and comes equipped with the Footman of Asia, the well-dressed Michael Beckerman. Watching Michael Beckerman’s performance on the day was almost as entertaining as Mr. Chew’s. As Mr. Chew told the Congress many times he prepared for the hearing with his team so I wonder if Mr. Beckerman exceeded expectations? I suspect there was no Mandate of Heaven for either of them.

Of course, MTP readers will not have been surprised by much of the focus on the control of TikTok by the Chinese Communist Party. We’ve been concerned about the problem for years. We’ve also been concerned from the beginning about the CCP’s National Intelligence Law that practically every member of Congress was well versed on. Mr. Chew really did not want to talk about that one.

Members were also focused on the CCP’s control over TikTok either directly or indirectly, which Mr. Chew tried to soft pedal, back paddle, or doggie paddle all day. But unfortunately for him, no one–and I mean no one–was buying it. The more he struggled the more convinced the Members became that he was either dodging or outright lying. The entire hearing was peppered with “You know you are under oath” and “Lying to Congress is a felony” which I assume was used as a kind of marker to come back and charge Mr. Chew with a crime at some point in the future. The Footman is no doubt very familiar with this issue–extremely so, I would think.

It must also be said that with an installed base in the US of 150 million, your user base statistically will start to reflect the good and bad in the population. These very large online communities bring a lot of people together in a virtual city and they will have all the same problems of any city. This is very predictable, or as we say in the law, very forseeable Mrs. Palsgraf. You can count on at least as many normies, serial killers, criminals doing criminal things, pedophiles (maybe more than average), and the severely mentally ill as you have in the general population. The great thing about the Internet is it brings people together; the bad thing about the Internet is some of them previously only met on Death Row.

So if I had to sum up the top takeaways from the hearing, I’d say it includes these salient points:

  1. There is overwhelming bipartisan distrust of TikTok.
  2. No one believes that the CCP does not exert total control over TikTok or could if it wanted to (like if the CCP invaded Taiwan), because everyone believes that TikTok user data is being harvested by the CCP.
  3. Many Members pointed out that the US needs a data privacy law to protect Americans from TikTok and the other social media companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others.
  4. No one doubted that the CCP’s National Intelligence Law gave the CCP the right to force any Chinese company or citizen to hand over user data to the CCP.
  5. No one doubted that the CCP could use TikTok in ways that endangered US national security from child abuse to troop movements by monitoring the location of TikTok users in uniform.

Of course the CCP didn’t make it easier for Mr. Chew to deny CCP control by issuing a statement that they would (and presumably could) block the sale of TikTok the same day he testified. This gave the lie to Mr. Chew’s carefully constructed misdirection plays as several members reminded him by reading from the Wall Street Journal.

This is not to say that there was not overwhelming revulsion at the idea that TikTok could permit significantly harmful uses of the platform for the various self-harm “challenges” that almost always seem to end with death for some of the kids participating.

Some Members raised the fact that the Mexican drug cartels recruit drivers for their human trafficking operations from among teenaged users of TikTok (as well as Snapchat and others). Many of these young drivers bring their own cars to ferry trafficked people from one stash house to another in the US. When detected by border authorities, these kids engage in a high speed chase (100+ MPH) with people in law enforcement who know how this is done. They then do things like make right angle turns at speed–clearly lacking the mental development to appreciate the danger of their actions–that ends with innocent bystanders or the trafficking victims being killed or severely injured in the ensuing accident that is catastrophic as only a high speed car wreck can be.

But what was not discussed in the hearing was how TikTok came to be as big a honeypot for kids as it is. One way was through the use of music which in many instances is licensed. It may be time to reconsider whether it makes any kind of moral or commercial sense to be in the TikTok business at all.

Maybe it’s time to stop taking their blood money.