Political implications of possible TikTok ban as lawmakers grill CEO

ABC News’ Jay O’Brien is on Capitol Hill with the latest on the TikTok hearing as contributor and Google Policy Fellow Mike Muse discusses the political implications of a ban of the Chinese-owned app.
9:57 | 03/23/23

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Transcript for Political implications of possible TikTok ban as lawmakers grill CEO
- Now to TikTok-- CEO getting grilled by lawmakers on the Hill, defending his app TikTok as Congress floats the idea of banning it. Lawmakers addressing security, spying, even suicide as Shou Zi Chew tells Congress that his company is working to protect user data. This comes as the popular app and its parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, are under intense scrutiny now for its use and alleged abuse of user data. - Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action. Now that's what we've been doing for the last two years, building what amounts to a firewall that seals off protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is this-- American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel. - Our Jay O'Brien on Capitol Hill, taking it all in. Jay, this has been quite a long hearing. Highlights so far from the day-- you started early on from the very beginning. - Yeah, this hearing going on for hours and hours and hours, Kyra. The biggest takeaways are that lawmakers appear unconvinced by what the TikTok CEO Shou Chew has to tell them-- assurances that he's giving them that the app is secure. Their concerns, their national security concerns, are really twofold. One relates to data privacy, the other relates to misinformation. Data privacy because TikTok is an app that's owned by ByteDance which is a Chinese company and there are concerns, lawmakers say, that ByteDance could access user information if the Chinese government requests it. And then misinformation concerns that TikTok's algorithm could be manipulated to promote things or downplay things that the Chinese government either likes or doesn't like. TikTok denies all of that-- says they do not do that. Their information, for example, is not controlled by any company. But lawmakers saying they are not moved by that, one even calling TikTok's claims about data preposterous, Kyra. - All right. Well, we are now hearing from China as well. At first in the morning, we really weren't getting any type of response-- now a statement. - Yeah, we got a statement from the Ministry of Commerce in China. And it talks about the idea that we've heard the administration say, sources say, is interested in, which is forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok through an American company. And it says if the news is true, China will resolutely oppose that. That's the statement there on your screen. That's China weighing in. But we've also seen lawmakers turn to that statement and throw it in the face of TikTok CEO today by saying, you say your company doesn't have a connection to China. But here is the Chinese Ministry of Commerce releasing a statement saying it would oppose the sale of TikTok to an American company. So that, another point of contention in this hearing as lawmakers try to demonstrate what they say are linkages between the Chinese Communist Party and TikTok. And the will to demonstrate those linkages, the opposition to TikTok, it's really bipartisan, Kyra. We heard one lawmaker tell TikTok CEO that today was the most bipartisan committee in Congress because of how widespread the concerns are about this app. - So you've been speaking to lawmakers about all the various concerns here. What have they been telling you-- the good, the bad, and the ugly? - Well, one of the things we really wanted to drill down on-- we talked to a lot of lawmakers yesterday ahead of this hearing-- is, is there anything that they could hear from Shou Chew, from the TikTok CEO, that would put to bed some of their concerns? And if they don't, what do they want to do moving forward? And what do they say to those influencers who say that this is their source of income? This is how they feed their families or this is how they pay rent. Here's what a few of them told us. - Those influencers, Congressmen who it's their livelihood, what's your message to them? - Ah, find another job. - Is there anything the CEO could say to put your mind at ease, Congressman? - Yeah, that he's going to sell. - So Troy Nehls, Republican of Texas there saying, find another job to those influencers. Ro Khanna is a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley-- saying he wants to see the CEO sell. That is something TikTok has said it is not interested in. It doesn't want to sell. Sources tell ABC News that the Biden administration is trying to push the sale of TikTok. But certainly here on Capitol Hill, bipartisan interest as demonstrated in this hearing to do something about TikTok here, and the question is what. - All right, Jay O'Brien. We'll keep following it. Thanks so much, Jay. And for more, ABC News contributor and Google Next Gen Tech Policy fellow-- Mike Muse joins us now to talk about what this might mean for TikTok and the millions of American users. So Mike, I knew you did a lot of things-- now just throw in tech fellow. Might as well. You're the Renaissance guy. I seem to be able to talk to you about everything from TikTok to the Oscars to issues of discrimination. I mean, you've just got it covered. [LAUGHS] - I do, Kyra, I'm your guy. I'm your wingman. Whatever you need, Kyra, I got for you. - Yes, you are. Yes. But we're going to keep this relationship alive. We're not going to have a Maverick-Goose situation, all right? - No, not at all. - Now the House Committee made this first move for a bill that would actually allow Biden to ban TikTok. And it sounded like a lot of lawmakers were in favor of banning the app, if you-- just hearing from Jay there. So is that a real possibility? Could we actually see our government banning TikTok here in the US? - That's a really great question. There are three bills circulating around Congress right now, which has incredible bipartisan support. But the challenge, though, is once the minister of Commerce from China came out and said that they will not support or allow any sale to be forced upon TikTok, that limits President Biden's options, Kyra. So now at this point, we're only faced with-- considering if we go down that path-- President Biden and Congress either banning it outright or limiting TikTok's ability for future downloads to happen. The challenge with that is that, one, we've already seen in the federal courts when former President Trump was in office, his inability to ban TikTok outright. The federal courts came in and stopped that. But then if you look at it from a political perspective. The millions of people who actually use TikTok politically, that will be damaging both for elected officials and for President Biden and any future president looking to run for office because of the voting demographic of individuals 35 and under who primarily use TikTok for their business, support their messaging, their advocacy. And I think where Congress needs to do well at today is really grill the CEO of TikTok on national security issues in relationship to China looking at our data, in order to get the American public to understand why it is on the table for a possible ban, or banning further downloads. Because it's a national security. But Kyra, if we have politicians out like Jay just represented in this package, saying just to get another job, it shows the ignorance that Congress has on the technology and influencers actually using this as a respected career and livelihood for making money. - Well, you had a lot of political experience, having worked in the Obama administration. If the government were to go as far as banning TikTok, I mean, how do you see that truly playing out among Americans-- voters, especially younger voters? - I think it will cause great concern for them, Kyra. I mean, the youth vote is always the most coveted vote that politicians go after, if not for voter turnout, in order to encourage messaging and brand identity for an elected official. If Congress-- and it doesn't seem like Congress is actually selling what their concern, which is national security well-- does not convince the American public that this is purely about national security, what's going to happen is as a young voter, that young voter could possibly think about, well, wait. Will you ban Twitter? Will you ban Instagram? These other popular apps-- because maybe you don't understand it. Will you say that's a national security, not really understanding how those other companies are completely separate from a parent company that's owned by China? And so I think the Biden administration and all the bipartisan elected officials has an opportunity today in the next 72 hours to really convince the American people that this is about national security. If they fail to do that as a national security, the American public, particularly young voters-- - Three, three, 33, check, check. I have music, music. - --who are just casually watching this, will look at this as them taking away my social media-- the opportunity to connect with friends, family-- movement building, Kyra. A lot of advocates and nonprofits use social media for movement building. And so if they do not get the messaging right, they could have a problem on their hands come election day. - One more question, if you don't mind. In addition to those data and privacy concerns, lawmakers did point to TikTok's content guidelines, especially how they might impact kids and teens using the app. - Exactly. Again, it's all about, sometimes elected officials are not doing a good job with explaining it well. What they're really trying to talk about is content moderation. So if they were to keep the narrative of content moderation consistent in how they deal with Twitter, Meta, Instagram, apply content moderation to TikTok, there will be more of an understanding. Because there would be more of a throughput or a throughline. What they're saying is that China could possibly have influence in the algorithm to suppress or support narratives that are pro-Chinese government. But that really falls underneath the category of content moderation, which is at the core of all the other big tech companies here in America. - Mike Muse, always a pleasure. Thanks, Mike.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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