- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2023

TikTok is mobilizing a cadre of influencers to descend on Washington and persuade lawmakers not to kill the China-founded app’s operation ahead of CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony in the House on Thursday.

The content creators are expected to appeal to lawmakers’ emotions. The company’s previous efforts to woo Washington insiders have focused heavily on a plan to overhaul data security efforts amid growing concerns that China will use the popular app to spy on and manipulate Americans.

The influencers assembling in Washington are people who use the platform “to make a living and put food on their tables,” said TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown. He said his company’s community of creators includes teachers and small-business owners.

“Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok should hear firsthand from people whose lives would be directly affected by their decisions,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming our creators to our nation’s capital, helping them make their voices heard, and continuing to drive meaningful impact in their lives and for their communities.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing will give lawmakers a chance to question TikTok’s leader and perhaps give TikTok its best chance to sway public opinion to reverse momentum in Washington for restricting the app’s operation.

American TikTok user Charli D’Amelio has more than 150 million followers, and Addison Rae has more than 88 million.

TikTok is emphasizing how proposed restrictions would yield potential economic hardship for Americans.

Those concerned about data security, including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, say they are ready to counter the charm offensive from leaders of the China-linked social media video platform.

House aides said lawmakers are ready for TikTok to try to make a ban appear politically toxic.

Several lawmakers are among the 200-plus people expected to attend the Hill & Valley Forum on Wednesday at the Library of Congress to formulate strategies to address the challenge of China. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and billionaire investor Peter Thiel are among those scheduled to speak at the private dinner for bipartisan lawmakers and tech executives, said organizer Jacob Helberg.

Mr. McCarthy appointed Mr. Helberg, a tech investor and former Google employee, to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, is expected to attend the event, as is Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Gallagher said he was impressed by the forum’s first event last fall. Mr. Helberg began building the forum last summer with the goal of bridging the rift between Silicon Valley, populated by engineers and technologists in their 30s, and Capitol Hill, which relies heavily on lawyers and politicians in their 60s.

Mr. Helberg said he plans to encourage lawmakers to dismiss Mr. Chew’s pleas on Thursday. He said he expects the TikTok executive to ignore national security concerns and instead focus on championing his app’s ecosystem of influencers and the growing number of American users who love the app.

“He’s going to use a lot of technical jargon to confuse and distract lawmakers,” Mr. Helberg said. “In short, he’s not going to address the root of the issue, which is that Chinese companies and Chinese nationals are legally compelled to comply with CCP intelligence requests and keep that compliance secret.”

China’s policies of civil-military fusion force businesses to work with the country’s communist regime, removing barriers between private companies and the government.

U.S. officials fear the Chinese government will use TikTok to siphon Americans’ data or influence policy.

President Biden signed into law fresh restrictions removing TikTok from government devices last year, and his administration has maintained a national security review of the platform, which started under the Trump administration. Mr. Biden has made no public determination about a broader ban.

TikTok has tried to create a perception of distance from China. Executives told the Senate last year that TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, had incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

To eliminate lingering security concerns about its Chinese connections, TikTok has promoted a plan to give the U.S. government veto power over a board of directors that would govern its restructured platform.

TikTok executives have sought to sell Washington insiders on the idea that the new TikTok U.S. Data Security unit would be walled off from China. Will Farrell, interim security officer, said this month that working at the TikTok entity would more closely resemble an American government contractor than a technology company.

Mr. Farrell, who previously worked at government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, detailed the company’s proposal at an internet policy conference in Washington this month.

Still, the opposition to TikTok is gaining momentum.

A group of 18 senators is backing legislation to give Mr. Biden the legal authority to impose a ban on TikTok and says support for the bill is growing. The effort is led by Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, and Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican. Co-sponsors are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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