Members of Congress on TikTok Defend App's Reach to Voters

after the Trump administration put new restrictions on the Chinese-owned social media app. More than two dozen members of Congress are now facing questions about whether they'll continue to use TikTok after the Trump administration put new restrictions on the Chinese-owned social media app.

WASHINGTON (AP), - Rep. Jeff Jackson from North Carolina used it to explain his complex fight for raising the debt limit. Robert Garcia, a California Representative, has used it to interact with members of the LGBTQ+ Community. Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania also used it to provide an overview of Election Day results.

Washington is under increasing pressure to shut down TikTok. More than twenty members of Congress, all Democrats, are now being encouraged by their colleagues not to use the platform. Many defend their presence on TikTok, arguing that they are public officials and have the responsibility to meet Americans wherever they are.

"I am sensitive to the ban, and I recognize some of its security implications. According to Dean Phillips, a Democratic Representative from Minnesota, TikTok is the best and fastest way to reach young Americans in America.

However, TikTok's active lawmakers remain a minority. The majority of Congress support limiting the app and requiring it to be sold to remove any connections to China. The app has been banned by the U.S. military and over half of the U.S. states. Similar bans were also imposed in Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Denmark, and the European Union.

Last week, TikTok was the subject of intense criticism. CEO Shou Zi Cheng testified for six hours during a heated hearing at the House. Chew was questioned by lawmakers about the app's impact on America's national security as well as its effect on mental health. The tough questions came from both the Republican and Democratic sides, as Chew was questioned about TikTok’s content moderation practices and its ability to protect American data from Beijing.

"I have to give it to you," Rep. August Pfluger (Republican from Texas) said as members asked Chew about data security and harmful contents. "You have done something that hasn't happened in the past three to four years, with the exception of perhaps (Russian president), Vladimir Putin. You have united Republicans and Democrats.

Although the hearing clearly stated that TikTok is a threat to lawmakers, it was also evident in their inexperience with the app. Some of the comments made were inaccurate and head-scratching, implying that they didn't understand how TikTok connects with a home Wi Fi router or how it modifies illicit content.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who is active on app and opposes nationwide bans, called the hearing "cringeworthy."

He told the AP that he found it so difficult to watch. "It just shows that Congress doesn't have much expertise in social media, or technology, and it's a real problem."

Garcia stated that he uses TikTok as a consumer more than a user. However, most of his colleagues proposing a ban across the country said they have never used the app. The freshman Democrat stated that it is difficult to understand if one is not on the app. "A lot of TikTok is innocent people dancing and funny videos, at the end of it all," he said.

He said, "It's also an incredibly rich educational material, and learning how bake and about the political process.

Before the hearing, Rep. Jamaal Bamman, D.N.Y., held a news conference that included TikTok influencers. He claimed that Republicans were pushing for a ban of TikTok because it was politically motivated.

Bowman stated that there are 150 million TikTok users and that we are closer to them than the Republicans. It's all about power and fear-mongering for them. It's not TikTok because we've turned our backs and allowed Facebook and other platforms similar actions.

TikTok critics in Congress claim that their opposition to TikTok is not rooted in politics but national security. TikTok, a subsidiary of Chinese technology company ByteDance Ltd. that appoints its executive officers, is wholly owned. They fear that Chinese authorities might force ByteDance Ltd. to turn TikTok into a data-mining facility for foreign powers. However, the company claims it is working to prevent that from happening.

'The fundamental approach that we're following, is to make it physically impossible to any government, even the Chinese government to get access U.S. data,' Erich Andersen, general counsel, stated during an interview with AP at a cybersecurity conference held in California.

TikTok is promoting a proposal worth $1.5 billion to store all U.S. user information on servers maintained and owned by Oracle. U.S. employees would have access to U.S. data through an independent entity managed by ByteDance, and outside observers would monitor it.

Thom Tillis, a Republican Senator from North Carolina, released a statement in which he urged all members of Congress not to use TikTok -- including from his home state -- apparently a jab at Jackson who is one the most active members with over 1.8 million followers.

When Tillis was asked about his comments, Tillis stated that he had just said, "I was just saying that if we're having an discussion about TikTok then we should at least reduce its pull factor by elected officials who are simply able to come off of it." "I don't have any TikTok accounts." That was a simple separation.

The Biden administration has also issued loud warnings about TikTok. In recent weeks, Christopher Wray and Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, have both told Congress that TikTok poses a national security risk. Blinken stated that the threat "should be eliminated one way or another."

Nevertheless, some members remain skeptical.

It's like turning off your phone on an airplane. It's what you are supposed to do. It's what you're supposed to do.

There are also concerns about the content that Americans see online and how tech companies collect their data. Congress has tried to limit the amount of data that tech companies have on consumers by passing a national privacy act, but these efforts have been repeatedly stalled over the years.

Capitol Hill TikTok supporters are asking their colleagues to become more knowledgeable about social media in general so Congress can pass legislation that addresses data privacy issues.

"We are ignorant and misinformed. We don't understand social media. Bowman stated that they don't have any knowledge about data brokers or how they sell data to foreign countries. "So ban TikTok tomorrow. This stuff will still be happening."

This report was contributed by Haleluya Hadero, an Associated Press journalist, Sausalito (California).