The CEO of TikTok faces a US Congress hostile to the social network

Shou Zi Chew, the head of the social network TikTok facing the US Congress, March 23, 2023. © Alex Brandon / AP

Text by: RFI Follow

3 min

In front of the US congress, Shou Chew, the boss of TikTok, a subsidiary of the Chinese group ByteDance, tried with difficulty Thursday to defend its application. American elected officials, up against the platform, accuse the social network of endangering national security and the health of its users.


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TikTok, suspected by many governments of giving access to user data in Beijing, faces a total ban in the United States. "I imagine you're going to say everything you can today to avoid this outcome," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the powerful parliamentary energy and trade committee, 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."

Political pressure against the hugely popular social network has soared in recent months on both sides of the Atlantic. The White House, the European Commission, the Canadian and British governments and other organizations have banned their officials from using it.

Data accessible by Chinese employees

Shou Chew acknowledged that the platform still has old US user data stored on servers accessible by Chinese employees. The leader promised that by the end of the year, all information related to the country's 150 million users would be managed only from servers of the Texas group Oracle, located in the United States, but "today, there is still data that we have to delete".


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 companies in the country to share their data if Beijing asks them to do so.

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. But a transfer, even if the parent company agreed, would be very complicated.

TikTok attacked on children's mental health

The Singaporean boss, a former Harvard student, also faced many questions about TikTok's responsibilities regarding the mental and physical health of young people, from the risks of addiction to the dangerous challenges that users throw at themselves. "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. "You know that TikTok could be designed to minimize the harm they cause to children, but the decision was made to get kids hooked on the name of profits," said Rep. Doris Matsui.

Elected officials also fear that the app could serve as a Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party to manipulate public opinion. On the contrary, it participates in the cultural influence of the United States, says TikTok. According to the company, U.S. users make up 10 percent of their global base, but 25 percent of views.

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

Shou Zi Chew, discreet boss of TikTok

A native of Singapore, Shou Chew has a more than loaded resume. He attended the prestigious Hwa Chong School, before flying to Europe to study economics at University College London. Also in London, he took on the role of banker for Goldman Sachs and also interned at Facebook, before earning an MBA at Harvard Business School. He worked for DST Global, a fund known for these investments in the tech world, where he joined the first investors of ByteDance. His meteoric journey continues with his next employer, Xiaomi. According to experts, it was Shou Chew, who is fluent in Mandarin and English, who turned this small gadget manufacturer into a mobile phone giant.

In March 2021, Shou Chew joined ByteDance as Chief Financial Officer and just a month later replaced Kevin Mayer as head of TikTok. While Shou Chew runs the company from Singapore, according to TikTok, it is unclear exactly what his decision-making power is in relation to ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming and other executives at the parent company.

Curiously, shortly after his appointment, his history on Twitter was completely erased. Married to a Taiwanese American and father of two, he is not sure that the photos of his toddlers are found on applications. Paradoxically, the young boss is very little present on social networks. It has only published about 20 videos since last year and has only nearly 000,<> subscribers.

►Also listen: Media review - TikTok, the bad reputation

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