Members of Congress on TikTok defend app’s reach to voters

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., joined at right by Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., rally to defend TikTok and the app's supporters, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 22, 2023. The House holds a hearing Thursday, with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on kids. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As pressure against TikTok mounts in Washington, D.C., more than two dozen members of Congress — all Democrats — who are active on the social media platform are being pushed by their colleagues to stop using it. Many defend their presence on the platform, saying they have a responsibility as public officials to meet Americans where they are — and more than 150 million are on TikTok.  

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina took the unusual step of releasing a public statement urging all members of Congress to stop using TikTok, including from his home state — seemingly a jab at Rep. Jeff Jackson (NC-14), who is one of the more active members with more than 1.8 million followers. 


“I was just saying if we’re having a discussion about TikTok then I think we ought to at least reduce the pull factor by elected officials who can simply come off of it,” Tillis said this week when asked about his statement. “I don’t have a TikTok account. So that was an easy separation for me.” 

Criticism of TikTok reached a new level when CEO Shou Zi Chew testified for more than six hours at a contentious hearing in the House. Lawmakers grilled Chew about the implications of the app for America’s national security and the effect on the mental health of its users. And the tough questions came from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans and Democrats alike pressed Chew about TikTok’s content moderation practices, its ability to shield American data from Beijing and its spying on journalists. 

Most in Congress say their opposition is rooted in national security, not politics. TikTok is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd., which appoints its executives. They worry Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over TikTok data on American users, effectively turning the app into a data-mining operation for a foreign power. The company insists it is taking steps to make sure that can never happen. 

Loud warnings about TikTok have also been coming from President Joe Biden’s administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray have told Congress in recent weeks that TikTok is a national security threat. Blinken told lawmakers the threat “should be ended one way or another.”