TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is Singaporean, not Chinese. Somebody please convince Senator Tom Cotton.

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Social media users criticised nan senator's questions, likening them to McCarthyism.

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, testifies during nan US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, "Big Tech and nan Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis," successful Washington, DC, connected January 31, 2024.

Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a four-hour hearing concerning children's online safety this week, entitled "Big Tech and nan Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis." Unfortunately, you'd person nary thought this was nan taxable if you only heard Senator Tom Cotton's questions for TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

Congress heard grounds from a who's who of societal media CEOs connected Wednesday, including Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter/X's Linda Yaccarino, Snap's Evan Spiegel, and Discord's Jason Citron (though nan second 3 had to beryllium subpoenaed). Each large tech exec was questioned astir information connected their platforms, pinch Zuckerberg moreover turning to directly apologise to parents whose children had been harmed by societal media.

TikTok's CEO is much apt to go American than Chinese

Yet contempt nan value of nan topic, nan proceeding took an aggravating detour erstwhile it came clip to mobility Chew, nan CEO of ByteDance subsidiary TikTok. Rather than attraction connected what nan video sharing level is doing to protect children, Arkansas legislator Cotton turned his attraction to nan taxable of Chew's nationality, seemingly incapable to comprehend that while TikTok's CEO is Asian, he is not Chinese. 

"Of what federation are you a citizen?" Cotton asked Chew successful an speech that is being widely shared connected Twitter/X

"Singapore, sir," responded Chew. Singapore is simply a small, independent land federation successful Southeast Asia which is not and has ne'er been a portion of China.

"Are you a national of immoderate different nation?" continued Cotton. 

"No, senator."

Others successful this business would move on, aliases coming grounds to nan contrary if they had any. Instead, Cotton proceeded to prosecute this statement of questioning for a afloat minute, seemingly incapable to return nan truth for an answer. Finding caller ways to many times airs nan aforesaid question, Cotton asked if Chew has ever applied for Chinese citizenship ("No, I did not"), whether he has a Singaporean passport ("Yes, and I served my subject for 2 and a half years successful Singapore"), and whether he holds immoderate different passports ("No, senator").

In fact, Chew indicated that he whitethorn use for American citizenship, arsenic his woman and children are U.S. citizens. Still, this didn't fulfill Cotton.

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"Have you ever been a personnel of nan Chinese Communist Party?" asked Cotton.

"Senator, I'm Singaporean," said Chew, opening to sound a spot incredulous astatine this stage. "No."

"Have you ever been associated aliases affiliated pinch nan Chinese Communist Party?"

"No, senator. Again, I americium Singaporean."

Then, bizarrely, Cotton pressed Chew connected his position of nan events successful Tiananmen Square, Beijing successful 1989, whether nan Chinese authorities is committing genocide against nan Uyghur people, and whether Chinese president Xi Jinping is simply a dictator.

Again, this proceeding was astir children's online safety.

Cotton's statement of questioning was disappointing, and not only because it bore small narration to nan existent taxable of nan hearing. The rumor of Chew's nationality had been thoroughly addressed earlier this week, pinch TikTok's CEO having perpetually and consistently restated that he is Singaporean, born, raised, and presently residing.

The speech betwixt Cotton and Chew drew important attraction online, pinch galore criticising nan legislator for his "xenophobic," "racist" questioning and likening it to McCarthyism. Others compared it to a segment from King of nan Hill in which protagonist Hank asks Kahn whether he is Chinese aliases Japanese contempt being intelligibly told he is Laotian.

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There are morganatic concerns astir TikTok's safety. This is not 1 of them.

Overall, Cotton's fierce interrogation appeared much for illustration a grandstanding discarded of clip than a productive information of nan hearing. Still, nan legislator stood down it. Hours aft nan proceeding concluded, Cotton claimed connected Fox News that "Singapore unluckily is 1 of nan places successful nan world that has nan highest grade of infiltration and power by nan Chinese Communist Party.

Setting speech Cotton's evident belief that location is simply a existent and important likelihood of Singaporean citizens being agents for nan Chinese Communist Party — a belief he grounded to sound astatine nan proceeding — nan legislator was incapable to supply immoderate grounds to support his accusation that Chew is sympathetic to nan Chinese government. When asked connected Fox News, Cotton simply cited nan truth that TikTok's CEO has antecedently worked for different Chinese companies.

Though Cotton's allegations astir TikTok's ties to nan Chinese authorities were by acold nan astir tenuous, he wasn't nan only legislator who expressed concern. Known TikTok force Senator Josh Hawley grilled Chew astir TikTok's Chinese labor accessing U.S. users' data, accusing nan institution of fundamentally being "an espionage limb for nan Chinese Communist Party." 

An soul investigation by TikTok successful 2022 did find that four labor successful China had improperly accessed nan information of 2 U.S. journalists, nevertheless nan institution addressed nan business and has since made efforts to wall disconnected American users' data. This included investing $1.5 cardinal and dedicating 2,000 labor to Project Texas, an inaugural to restructure TikTok truthful that U.S. information is stored successful nan U.S. by U.S. institution Oracle.

Chew became a TikTok meme and net leader aft a congressional proceeding past March, pinch users posting instrumentality edits of nan CEO and praising him for his diligent answers to lawmakers' stunningly misinformed questions. Sadly, it seems Congress hasn't learnt overmuch successful nan twelvemonth since.

TikTok surely isn't a cleanable company, and its efforts to protect American users' information still person flaws. But if U.S. lawmakers want to make immoderate benignant of effect erstwhile it comes to addressing online safety, aliases moreover conscionable gain nan support of their internet-savvy constituents, they're going to person to importantly rethink their approach.

Amanda Yeo

Amanda Yeo is Mashable's Australian reporter, covering entertainment, culture, tech, science, and societal good. This includes everything from video games and K-pop to movies and gadgets.

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