TikTok already has 150 million active users in the US, the congressional executive said

When TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before Congress on Thursday, he plans to reveal new internal data that suggests the popular video-sharing app is far more enmeshed in Americans’ daily lives than anyone realizes.

TikTok currently says about 100 million people in the US are regular users of the app. But when Chu testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he will say that number has already reached 150 million, according to a senior Democratic strategist advising TikTok.

That 50% jump in US monthly active users suggests the app has become even more entrenched in the US in the nearly three years that Washington — under two presidential administrations — has struggled with how to rein it in.

Lawmakers from both parties and the White House have argued that TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, poses a national security threat because Beijing could use it to sway US public opinion or gain access to the data of rogue Americans. purposes such as spying.

In December, President Joe Biden signed a spending bill that banned TikTok from US government devices. The Department of Justice and the FBI are currently investigating TikTok and ByteDance, including allegations that company employees spied on journalists.

Chu’s testimony comes as efforts in Washington to potentially ban TikTok in the U.S. have reached a fever pitch. Biden is now backing a bipartisan bill that could do just that, and his administration recently told TikTok that either its Chinese owners sell their stake in the company or the app could face a US ban.

Its first appearance before Congress will mark TikTok’s most high-profile clash with lawmakers to date — and the app plans to rely on users deemed “creators” to counter efforts to ban it, as well as criticism that it is a threat to national security. security.

Several dozen TikTok creators, including small business owners, artists and activists who see the app as a key to their livelihoods, plan to be in Washington on Wednesday ahead of Chu’s testimony to hold a press conference and meet with lawmakers, according to a person , familiar with planning.

The lobbying effort, first reported by The Information, will demonstrate a primarily economic argument: that banning TikTok could cause financial hardship to Americans who rely on it to generate income.

“TikTok’s creators are small business owners trying to make ends meet and put food on their tables, teachers training the next generation of leaders, and everyday innovators who represent the breadth of America,” TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown said in statement. “Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok need to hear firsthand from people whose lives will be directly affected by their decisions.”

The potential political consequences of a TikTok ban are difficult to predict. But the prospect of a ban comes as Biden is expected to mount a re-election campaign in 2024, and the sheer number of TikTok users in the US suggests he could pay a price if he runs – which he has said he intends to do .

Underscoring how Biden’s management and political strategies collide when it comes to TikTok, the president on Friday appeared in a video on the app with Irish singer Niall Horan at the White House’s St. Patrick’s Day party. Patrick.

Yet last month, when asked if the U.S. should ban TikTok, Biden said, “I’m not sure,” adding, “I know I don’t have it on my phone.”

The 150 million regular users in America that Chu will cite in his congressional testimony on Thursday does not include children under the age of 13, according to a senior Democratic strategist advising TikTok.

But of those 150 million, roughly 12 million are under the age of 18 — about 8 percent — meaning about 138 million of voting age are regular TikTok users, the strategist said, adding that the average age of the regular TikTok user is 31 years old. (Some of the 12 million regular TikTok users who are under the age of 18 will also be eligible to vote in 2024.)

A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 49% of Americans support banning TikTok in the US, while 42% oppose it.

Opposition to a national ban is significantly greater among Americans ages 18 to 34, according to the survey, with 63 percent opposing a ban and 33 percent supporting one. Voters under the age of 35 tend to favor Democrats by a wide margin.

A breakdown of the poll among political parties suggests the ban could hurt Democrats more: 64 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of independents support the ban, while 51 percent of Democrats oppose the ban.

TikTok is one of several flashpoints in the strained relationship between the US and China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference last week that “the United States has yet to prove with evidence that TikTok threatens its national security.”

Although TikTok has been a target of the US government for several years, with former President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban the app in 2020 being blocked in court, it’s only recently that the idea has gained widespread momentum in Washington.

China passed a law in 2020, following Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok, that added it to the government’s list of non-exportable technologies, meaning the algorithms used by TikTok could be considered banned and Beijing could reject any sale.

TikTok has tried to address the US government’s national security concerns by offering to hire an American company to store the data of people in the US who use the app.

Chu said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week that the Biden administration’s demand that TikTok’s Chinese stakeholders divest would not address concerns raised by U.S. officials.

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