BEIJING—In more than five hours of questioning during a hearing on Capitol Hill last Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew failed to convince a bipartisan U.S. congressional committee that his app is safe from the Chinese government’s meddling. At the same time, though it wasn’t its stated goal, the bipartisan panel similarly failed to convince many TikTok users in the U.S. of the risks of Beijing’s growing influence. As a result, the hearing put into stark contrast the gap between the app’s fans and critics, against the backdrop of increasingly tensions between the world’s two leading powers over technology and the economic and political influence it generates.
With some 150 million active users in the U.S and over 100 million in the European Union, TikTok is hugely popular. But because of the social media app’s reach and its Chinese ownership, it is facing mounting pressure from Western governments. The EU, the U.K., France and others have directed civil servants to delete TikTok from their government-issued devices in recent weeks. Now Washington is taking things a step further and debating an outright ban, over fears that the Chinese government could use TikTok to sway public opinion and access sensitive user data.
Is the debate unfair, just a case of Sino-phobic hysteria? Or is the U.S. simply taking a potential threat seriously?