Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday criticized a bipartisan effort to ban TikTok, becoming one of the platform’s biggest supporters in Congress as the China-based company’s CEO is expected to testify before a House panel this week.
The social media giant is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, raising concerns that the platform could constitute a national security threat for Americans. China’s national security law states that Chinese companies or those operating within the country could be required to share their data with the government.
In an interview with NBC News, Bowman disputed the notion that China could use TikTok to steal Americans’ data or sway U.S. opinion.
“I haven’t seen any hard evidence that TikTok is committing some form of espionage,” Bowman said. “What I’ve heard is speculation. And what I’ve heard is innuendo.”
Bowman added that Americans use many Chinese-owned applications and picking at TikTok seems like another effort by politicians to spread fear.
“The idea that, ‘Oh, TikTok is the boogeyman’ — it’s just part of a political fearmongering that’s happening,” he told NBC News.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews foreign transactions involving American businesses for national security concerns, has called on TikTok’s Chinese owners to either sell their stake in the business or risk a nationwide ban, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The platform’s ownership has also been flagged as a concern by congressional lawmakers and U.S. officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values, and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interests of the United States,” Wray said last year. “That should concern us.”
TikTok seemed to confirm those worries when it announced in December that it fired staff in China and the U.S. after they were found to have accessed the data of two journalists and other U.S. users, according to The Washington Post.
Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), earlier this month introduced legislation aimed at addressing the threat of technologies created by U.S. adversaries. While the bill doesn’t specifically target TikTok, it could be used to ban it.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also advanced a bill to give President Joe Biden more power to take action against the platform.
In the meantime, TikTok has become increasingly popular with Americans, raising questions about whether a ban could hurt President Joe Biden and other Democrats.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who is due to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, said this week that the platform has 150 million monthly active users in the U.S., a 50% increase from 2020. The number includes 5 million U.S. businesses. TikTok has 7,000 U.S.-based employees.
U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bowman, are also active on the platform. GOP Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz used TikTok during his unsuccessful 2022 campaign.
Bowman, who has about 158,000 TikTok followers, plans a news conference with TikTok creators about how a ban would infringe on their First Amendment rights Wednesday.
TikTok has paid for influencers to travel to Washington this week as part of a push to prevent a ban, according to Politico.