On the TikTok Beat, Trends Dance With National Security

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A social media app once known for its cat videos and dance challenges has become a political hotspot among Washington legislators.

In March, the Biden administration ordered TikTok, a platform with more than 150 million users in the United States, to be removed from federally issued devices over concerns about the app’s handling of sensitive user data. Citing national security concerns, the administration later called on TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app or face an outright ban in the United States. bottom.

During tense congressional hearings last month, politicians forced TikTok chief executive Shou Chew to question concerns about the company’s relationship with the Chinese government, its handling of users’ data, and the children and teens who use the app. severely denounced. In the aftermath of the hearing, avid TikTokkers came to his Mr. Chew’s defense and went viral on his own platform.

Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter for The New York Times who writes about TikTok, covers about five hours of the hearing and then reports on China’s response to US scrutiny of the app. In her edited interview, Maheshwari spoke about her report, Washington’s allegations, and what happens next.

What are the lessons learned from the March 23rd hearing?

I was really impressed with the parliamentarians’ harsh tone to Shou Chew. The more than 50 lawmakers who questioned him seemed interested in using the five minutes to voice their opinions on TikTok or pursue very specific questions important to voters. It is very offensive and shows that his TikTok is not very well loved within the government right now.

How much of that skepticism do you think is tied to anti-China sentiment among current politicians?

No politician will be accused of being too harsh on China right now, and that’s definitely part of what’s going on. is certain. The TikTok CEO has really tried to defend the platform by bringing it up several times: Instagram if you’re talking about anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues in his teens who use TikTok is also reasonable to raise similar concerns.

Similarly, on the issue of data privacy, TikTok’s CEO has repeatedly said that user data is in an even safer position than American tech companies. But people weren’t really interested in having that conversation at the hearing.

Where do you think TikTok will go from here?

What makes this an incredibly compelling story is that it’s completely unprecedented in the United States. There is no example of a government trying to ban an app that uses A lot of this actually needs to be decided, so it will be an exciting beat to cover.

In the short term, the pace of the US government is not fast. We’ll see how negotiations play out between the Biden administration and TikTok. We’ve already seen a lot of concern from TikTokker saying ‘follow us on YouTube in case we get banned’ and taking various precautions. Also, as we recently reported, ByteDance has a new app in the works called Lemon8.

What do you think of Lemon8 so far? Is this an effort by ByteDance to circumvent the measures being taken against TikTok?

From what I learned from my sources, they started talking to their advertising agency about this in January. At that point, TikTok was nervous about not hearing from the Biden administration, so he may have been concerned about his TikTok’s future in the United States.

But Lemon8 seems to be a completely different kind of platform. They position it as a complementary app to TikTok. Here are some interesting slides I found in Lemon8’s report. In its marketing materials, ByteDance showed potential top app store charts with his video editing tools CapCut, TikTok and Lemon8 as the top three apps.

This is ByteDance’s unwavering move forward, and I think we think we’re going to be America’s biggest and best app maker.

Are there any particular challenges in covering an evolving platform like TikTok?

one One of the biggest challenges in covering technology platforms is how highly tailored they are to individual interests and Internet activity. I don’t want to put myself in a silo where I miss the trends others see. I see a lot with different companies tracking what’s popular on TikTok and people representing creators.

How often do you use TikTok in your personal life? Are there privacy issues that have affected how you use TikTok?

I definitely log in every day. I have seen firsthand how addictive it is. Feeds are great for quickly figuring out what you like. I created some accounts to change the content.

Covering TikTok at this point would be really difficult if you’ve never used the app. , stating that this is not their practice and that they are rogue employees.

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