TikTok CEO Shou Chew had his first appearance before Congress on Thursday and the vitriol he faced from lawmakers was matched only by the vitriol TikTok users have for lawmakers that simply do not understand how social media works.Chew’s hearing, which lasted for more than five very long hours, began with lawmakers calling for a country-wide ban on the app. This should come as no surprise. A barrage of bills attempting to limit TikTok’s reach because of alleged data sharing with China have been on various dockets since 2019. In the hearing, we saw a rare moment of bipartisanship in an effort to crack down on the app. TikTok users watched. There were dozens of accounts live-streaming the hearing and plenty of journalists, comedians, and regular folks commenting in real time on the app. Here are some of TikTok’s favorite — or least favorite — moments from the TikTok congressional hearing.
Rep. Richard Hudson’s weak WiFi connection
TikTok users had plenty to work with while making fun of North Carolina Republican Rep. Richard Hudson who, it seems, does not understand how WiFi works.”Mr, Chew, does TikTok access the home wifi network?” Hudson asked.”Only if the user turns on the wifi,” Chew said. “I’m sorry, I may not understand the question.””So if I have the TikTok app on my phone and my phone is on my home wifi network, does TikTok access that network?” Hudson said.”It would have to — to access the network to get connections to the internet, if that’s the question,” Chew said, seeming a bit confused because Hudson’s question is inherently confusing. “Is it possible, then, that it could access other devices on that home WiFi network?” Hudson asked.”Congressman, we do not do anything that is beyond any industry norms. I believe the answer to your question is no. It could be technical. Let me get back to you,” Chew said.One TikTok video of the interaction amassed more than 330,000 views, 2,300 comments, and 34,000 likes in three hours. “This is so embarrassing,” the user who posted the video, @hoolie_r, wrote in the caption. “I swear to god we need to get competent and younger people in office.” All of the comments are in a similar tone.
Just about anything Rep. Buddy Carter said
I would like to have a conversation with whoever prepped Republican Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter for this hearing because, whew Buddy, was he off his rocker. At one point during his questioning, he became certain that TikTok was collecting users’ biometric data — in particular, how users’ eyes dilate while viewing a video. This is incredibly silly. Here’s how that conversation went:
“Can you tell me right now, can you say with 100% certainty, that TikTok does not use the phone’s camera to determine whether the content that elicits a pupil dilation should be amplified by the algorithm? Can you tell me that?”
“We do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify our users.”
“No. The only face data that we collect is when you use the filters that have, say sunglasses, on your face, we need to know where your eyes are”
“Why do you need to know where the eyes are if you’re not seeing if they’re dilated?”
“And the data is stored on your local device and deleted after use if you use it for facial. Again, we do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify our users.”
“I find that hard to believe. It’s our understanding that they’re looking at the eyes — how do you determine what age they are, then?”
“We rely on age dating as our key age assurance.”
“Dating, which is when you ask the user what age they are. We have also developed some tools when you look at their public profile to go through the videos that they post to see whether”
“Well that’s creepy. Tell me more about that.”
“It’s public. So if you post a video that you choose [a] video to go public — that’s how you get people to see your video. We look at those.”
One particularly popular TikTok video of that interaction has the caption “I get second hand embarrasment [sic] watching these corpses try to make points.” Just about all of the comments below the video are along the lines of “how is this guy allowed to have this job?” In another particularly popular video of Carter’s questioning, he asks Chew if the Chinese version of TikTok, known as Douyin, had the same “challenges” as TikTok does in the U.S. Chew admitted he didn’t know, saying the addictive nature of the app is an “industry challenge.” This was, to Carter’s credit, a pretty interesting question. Unfortunately, the one aspect most notable from this line of questioning is Carter’s inability to let Chew answer.”Watch how many times this congressman interrupted him,” one user wrote on a video with thousands of likes. Many of the comments align with that thought: “Maybe if he was allowed to talk,” one user wrote. “Why do they KEEP REMINDING HIM that he has to tell the truth that’s so condescending,” another user commented. As one user commented under yet another video calling out Rep. Carter: “Buddy is all over TT today 😂”
The lack of space for nuance
Dozens of videos about the TikTok congressional hearing that aren’t direct videos quoting politicians are pointing out that these hearings are, unfortunately, pretty useless. Politicians “don’t care to understand just ‘own’ someone,” one user commented under a video of the hearing.In a statement after the hearing, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told Axios: “Shou came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway.”Despite the very real political grandstanding, this hearing did make a few things clear: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce members view TikTok as a national security threat, there is bipartisan support for a nation-wide ban, and we might be approaching a time in which Congress seriously considers a national privacy law.