TikTok CEO Shou Chew did not directly answer questions about China’s Uyghur persecution and possible Taiwanese invasion at a House committee hearing on Thursday.
Chew, who was grilled by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for five hours over the social media platform, insisted that he was only in Capitol Hill to speak about his company, which currently faces a potential nationwide ban over years-long national security concerns.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R, AZ-8) threw the Uyghur question three times at Chew. First, she asked: “Do you agree that the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?”
“Congresswoman, if you use our app and you open it, you will find our users, who give all sorts of content on—” Chew replied before being cut off by the Arizona representative.
Lesko repeated her question for the TikTok executive, who failed to respond directly for the second time.
“Well, it’s deeply concerning to hear about all accounts of human rights abuse, my role here is to explain what our platform does—,” said Chew, before being stopped by Lesko for the second time.
“I think you’re being pretty evasive. It’s a pretty easy question,” Lesko told Chew. “Do you agree that the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?”
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“Congresswoman, I’m here to describe TikTok and what we do as a platform,” Chew answered. “And as a platform, we allow our users to freely express themselves on this issue and any other issue that matters to them.”
After failing to get an answer for the third time, Lesko moved on while noting, “Well, you didn’t answer the question.”
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Lesko’s questioning followed a related inquiry by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, WA-5) earlier in the hearing questioning whether TikTok has used moderation tools to remove content associated with the “Uyghur genocide.”
"We do not remove that kind of content," Chew said. "TikTok is a place for freedom of expression, and chair, just like I said, if you use our app, you can go on it and you will see a lot of users around the world expressing content on that topic and many others.
Rodgers also asked Chew if TikTok removes content about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, to which he eventually replied, "That kind of content is available on our platform."
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"I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime," Rodgers warned Chew after his answer.
Chew joined TikTok in 2021 as CEO but concurrently served as CFO of its Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance, for several months. Rodgers later asked whether he could confirm with 100 percent certainty that Bytedance or the Chinese Communist Party cannot use TikTok to create pro-China messages against Taiwan.
Chew did not directly respond to the question but assured that TikTok has given the House committee and its users its commitment that the app will remain “free from any manipulation by any government.”
“If you can’t say [you’re] 100% certain, I’d take that as a no,” Rodgers said in response.
China’s persecution of Uyghurs — an ethnic Muslim minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang — has been heavily documented in recent years.
In one of its final acts, the Trump administration declared in January 2021 that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity for its treatment of Uyghurs and other minority groups. Later that year, an independent tribunal based in London ruled a similar conclusion, accusing China of forced birth control, abortion, sterilization, rape, torture, persecution and forced disappearance, among other crimes, in Xinjiang.
Beijing, which has consistently denied the abuses, was accused last year of attempting to block a long-awaited United Nations assessment on human rights abuses in Xinjiang. A 48-page report citing "serious human rights violations" was finally published at the end of August.
Whether TikTok will be banned in the U.S. is yet to be seen. Last week, the Biden administration threatened to ban the app unless its Chinese owners sell their stakes.