WASHINGTON. For an app that boasts 150 million US users, TikTok had few allies on Capitol Hill to fight back against the growing movement to ban it. It seems to be changing.
The Chinese-owned platform has defeated Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat from New York, who is due to hold a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday along with dozens of TikTok content creators to make the case for protecting the app in the US.
In an interview on Tuesday, Bowman strongly defended TikTok and denounced the law to ban the app, dismissing arguments about its dangers as “fear-mongering” and saying he saw no evidence that China was using it for spying.
“This is a space where these creators have found a platform to share their ideas, their inspiration, their thoughts, their voice with the rest of the country and the rest of the world. And why do we want to remove it? Bowman told NBC News about it. “Why do we need to ban a platform that 150 million Americans are now using?”
“Now there are a lot of Chinese language apps on our phones. And so the idea that ‘Oh, TikTok is a boogeyman’ is just part of the political fearmongering going on,” said Bowman, who posts frequently on the video-sharing app and has a significant following. He compared the criticism of TikTok to “fear-mongering” by Republicans over an “open border” and debt limit, as well as “xenophobia around China.”
“I have not seen any hard evidence that TikTok is engaged in any form of espionage,” he said. “What I have heard is speculation. And what I have heard is insinuations.”
These remarks make Bowman the most prominent TikTok ally on Capitol Hill. And they come just days before TikTok CEO Show Zi Chu is due to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in what is likely to be a contentious hearing Thursday morning. Chu will make his first appearance on Capitol Hill as the company fell behind the G8 in Washington and struggles to stave off a possible ban.
Critics in both political parties say the app poses a threat to national security and data privacy as it is effectively controlled by the Chinese government at a time of rising global tensions between the US and China.
At the press conference, Bowman and TikTok users will be joined by Rep. Mark Pokan, of Wisconsin, whose office said he plans to attend.
“We appreciate the support of these members of Congress and will remain unwavering in our commitment to building the safe, secure, and innovative platform through which our billion-plus community has come to know us,” said TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown.
Senator Mark Warner, Virginia, chairman of the intelligence committee, dismissed the argument that Americans’ TikTok data could be safe from potential Chinese spying, saying it “doesn’t pass a smell test” due to a law in China that obliges companies primarily to the Chinese Communist Party.
Warner told reporters Monday at a luncheon hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that he feared the app could be used for propaganda and manipulation. If banned, he said, the market could produce a new product that is not controlled by an “authoritarian regime.”
Asked about Warner’s argument that the new app could replace TikTok, Bowman replied, “I think so. It could very well have happened. Let’s shut down Facebook and force Mark Zuckerberg to create a new platform.”
“When we look at American companies like Facebook that looked the other way in 2016 when Russia colluded to influence our elections, Facebook is a national security threat. We’re not talking about a Facebook ban,” Bowman said, calling it “reckless” to target TikTok.
Instead, Bowman called for greater regulation of social media companies that would “end big tech monopolies” and “give people a choice” right away in the pop-up window when they log in on whether their data can be shared. or not.
In December, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill to ban the app from government devices. Most recently, he supported a bill that would allow the administration to regulate or ban foreign-made platforms. As NBC News reported last week, his administration is threatening to ban the app in the US unless the company’s Chinese owners sell their stakes.
Bowman said that TikTok’s ban would pose a political danger to Biden as he also runs for re-election, citing the app’s popularity among young voters, a group that Biden and Democrats are “already fighting,” he said.