Dueling TikTok creators take over Capitol Hill as battle over app heats up

A blockbuster House committee hearing with the CEO of TikTok was met with a wave of influencers and creators from both sides of the online culture wars coming to Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, TikTok creators, artists, small business owners, educators, parents and advocates joined Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) for a press conference outside the Capitol to highlight why they value the app, and to question the motivations behind calls to ban it.

Concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership, as well as its effects on children, have led to bipartisan calls for its ban.

“A ban on TikTok would be devastating to not only my community of parents and people that follow me, but also the millions of other communities that I know TikTok has helped develop, and the people who have found a safe place to express themselves through this platform,” said Jason Linton, a TikTok creator who documents his family’s journey through foster care and adoption.

“So I’m asking our politicians: don’t take away the community that we have all built,” Linton later added. “A community that laughs, that loves, and supports each other in a way that nothing else can. We can solve the issues without taking away something so precious to us all.”

Callie Goodwin, the owner of greeting card company Sparks of Joy, said 95 percent of her orders come from TikTok followers.

“A TikTok ban wouldn’t just put my business at risk — 95 percent of my livelihood would disappear overnight, along with this entire community of creators and customers that I have built over the platform,” she said.

Bowman took a shot at Republicans later in the press conference, arguing that they want to ban TikTok because they don’t have “swag.”

“Republicans ain’t got no swag, that’s why they want to ban TikTok,” Bowman said. “Republicans ain’t got no swag, that’s the problem.”

The halls of the Capitol on Wednesday were filled with TikTokers shooting content for their pages — some with more serious messages than others.

But the following day, that same location right outside the Capitol was occupied by a pro-TikTok ban press conference with the Heritage Foundation that featured Chaya Raichik, creator of the right-wing account Libs of TikTok, who accused the app of hosting “groomers and predators.”

Raichik also said her account, which is dedicated to sharing and mocking pro-LGBT content, would persist just fine if the app is banned, saying much of her content highlights left-wing messages from other sources.

“I’m not worried in the least bit about my account. What I’m worried about is our children,” she said.

Robby Starbuck, a former congressional candidate and music video director who has grown a large conservative online presence, took a swipe at Bowman’s “swag” comment.

“Maybe we need more members of Congress we’re more focused on protecting our country and our kids than if they look like they have swag on TikTok. That type of immaturity is how we got here,” Starbuck said.

The dueling press conferences came as TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle grilled him about national security, data sharing and privacy concerns

“You damn well know that you cannot protect the data and security of this committee or the 150 million users of your app because it is an extension of the CCP,” Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) said during the hearing.

But Bowman, during Wednesday’s press conference, questioned “the hysteria and the panic and the targeting of TikTok,” while raising concerns about other social media platforms.

“In terms of TikTok’s behavior and its risk to national security, it poses about the same threat that companies like Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter pose,” he said. “So let’s not marginalize and target TikTok.”

He warned against having a “dishonest conversation” and expressing xenophobia when discussing TikTok “because American companies have done tremendous harm to American people.” 

Bowman called for a “comprehensive conversation” to discuss legislation ensuring social media platforms are safe, and that user information is secure and not being shared or sold to third-parties.

“Let’s have a broader, more honest conversation about social media, and let’s not scapegoat TikTok because they happen to be owned by a Chinese organization in this time of heightened xenophobia since COVID,” he said. “Let’s have an honest conversation.”

“There is a real problem and we should be addressing it,” Pocan said. “And it includes TikTok and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other platforms about our data and our privacy of our data and selling our data and allowing misinformation. But that is not what’s being addressed when people say they want to ban TikTok.”

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) in the Thursday press conference, floated a hypothetical app called AmeriTok to push on China to promote individual rights, the U.S.A. buying farmland in China, gun ownership, capitalism, and “responsible premium cigar smoking” — a reference to the love that Nehls, who often has a lit cigar in hand outside the Capitol, has for cigars.

“What do you think [Chinese President] Xi Jinping would do, what do you think, if I presented this to him? Do you think he would bring this into the fold and say, ‘great idea?’” Nehls said. “Absolutely not. It’s not going to happen. Then why in the hell do we allow it to happen here?”

Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) said, “It’s China, our number one enemy, infiltrating our children’s minds with dangerous ideologies.”

Asked if he trusts TikTok when it says it does not share Americans’ data with the Chinese government, Bowman said “personally, I don’t trust nobody.”

“I don’t trust, again, American social media companies when they say they don’t do one thing or another. I’m trying to broaden the conversation. Can we not be so myopic in our view and what we’re talking about as a single entity?” he added.

Tags Jamaal Bowman Mark Pocan

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