"I imagine you're going to say everything you can today to avoid this outcome," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the powerful parliamentary committee on energy and trade, which summoned the leader for a hearing.

"We don't believe you," she said. "ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and ByteDance and TikTok are the same."

The Singaporean leader, a Harvard graduate, was subjected to particularly pugnacious interrogation by representatives who presented, exceptionally, a united front.

For more than five hours, elected officials hardly let the former banker speak. According to them, the Chinese Communist Party uses TikTok for espionage and manipulation.

The White House, the European Commission, the Canadian and British governments and other organizations have recently banned their officials from using it.

Shou Chew promised that by the end of the year, all information related to the 150 million American users would be managed only from servers of the Texas group Oracle, located in the United States.

Shou Chew faced repeated attacks from US elected officials, left and right, who accuse TikTok of all evils, on March 23, 2023 at Congress © Jim WATSON / AFP

But he had to acknowledge that the platform still has old data accessible by Chinese employees.

TikTok 'destroys lives'

"The Chinese government does not own or control ByteDance. It's a private company," he insisted.

Rep. Anna Eshoo called her arguments "grotesque." "I don't believe there really is a private sector in China," she said, referring to China's law that requires Chinese companies to share their data if Beijing asks them to do so.

"I still believe that the communist government in Beijing will always have control, and the ability to influence what you do," said Democratic Representative Frank Pallone.

Several bills, supported right and left, are in the pipeline to ban TikTok. The White House has hinted that if TikTok remains in the fold of ByteDance, it will be banned.

Ahead of the hearing, China's commerce minister said he would "firmly" oppose a forced sale, stressing that any sale of TikTok would require Beijing's approval.

The boss also faced many questions about TikTok's responsibilities regarding the mental and physical health of the youngest, from the risks of addiction to the dangerous challenges that users throw at themselves.

TikTok boss Shou Chew during his hearing in the US Congress on March 23, 2023 © Jim WATSON / AFP

"Your company destroyed their lives," Gus Bilirakis said, pointing to the parents of a dead teenager who came to attend the hearing. They have filed a complaint against the platform, which they accuse of showing thousands of unsolicited videos about suicide to their son.

"Your technology is literally causing deaths," the rep said.


"The fate of TikTok in the United States is more uncertain than ever after this grueling interrogation of Shou Chew," said analyst Jasmine Enberg of Insider Intelligence.

"There's not much he could have said to convince lawmakers that TikTok is not controlled or influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Chinese Communist Party."

The app and several associations believe that a complete ban - as in India since 2020 - would amount to censorship.

Protest against the ban on the TikTok app in front of the US Congress, on March 22, 2023 in Washington © Brendan Smialowski / AFP

"Banning TikTok would profoundly undermine America's credibility as a defender of online freedom," 16 NGOs said in a letter to Congress on Wednesday.

"Why so much hysteria around TikTok?" asked Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman Wednesday night at a press conference with content creators who came to defend their favorite network.

The platform presents the same risks to data privacy, user health or misinformation as "Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter," the elected official argued, calling for an "honest conversation on all social networks".

Many influencers fear losing all or part of their revenue, and the fan base they have assembled.

Duncan Joseph, a 20-year-old comedian, told AFP he would never have been able to build his "community" on other platforms, which he considers less "authentic".

"On TikTok, anyone can become a superstar," the content creator said.

© 2023 AFP