During a congressional hearing on Thursday, US lawmakers accused the Chinese-owned app TikTok of serving harmful content to young users, leading to emotional distress. The CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, was grilled on the company’s influence on teenagers.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington began the hearing by stating that TikTok’s content algorithm promotes self-harm and eating disorder content within minutes of creating an account, and encourages dangerous challenges that can endanger kids’ lives. Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone from New Jersey added that content on TikTok has worsened children’s emotional stress.
Chew, who made his first appearance before Congress, testified that the vast majority of TikTok users are over 18, but the company has invested in measures to safeguard young people who use the app. The hearing comes at a critical time for TikTok as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure from lawmakers to ban the app over national security concerns, as it is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech firm.
Lawmakers questioned Chew on whether the Chinese government could access Americans’ user data and how the app prevented harmful content from reaching young users. Republican Rep. Bob Latta from Ohio mentioned a 10-year-old girl who suffocated herself while attempting a “blackout challenge” from videos on the app. Latta argued that TikTok should not be shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a law that generally grants online platforms immunity for content created by users.
Chew later stated during the hearing that TikTok prohibited dangerous challenges and similar content. TikTok has recently introduced more parental control features, and earlier this month, it announced that it was in the early stages of developing a tool that would enable parents to block their teens from viewing videos containing specific words or hashtags.
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