TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew faced a gruelling five hours of questioning by 22 lawmakers in a high-stakes congressional hearing with the US House Energy and Commerce Committee about the safety and security of the immensely popular app.
Chew was bombarded with questions on March 23 regarding China's relationship with his company, data privacy, possible teen addiction to the app, misinformation and fentanyl.
A core concern shared by almost all 22 representatives was that TikTok's parent company, Bytedance, might be sharing data from US users with the Chinese government.
But, after watching most of the hearing myself, if I was an American, I would be more concerned about the competence of the lawmakers representing me.
Since the hearing, Tiktok has been awash with users mocking the sheer stupidity of some of the questions posed to Chew.
Creators and commentators shared their critiques live as the hearing aired, claiming lawmakers did not seem to know much about the platform they were on, and that they did not give Chew a fair chance to speak.
During the five-hour hearing, numerous clips pointing out the shortcomings of the proceedings quickly went viral.
One of the most widely-shared videos, with over a million views, showed Georgia representative, 65-year-old Earl “Buddy” Carter, asking Chew whether the phone camera tracked users’ pupil dilations, which Chew quickly refuted, saying TikTok did not use body, face, or voice data to identify users.
“"I get second hand embarrassment watching these corpses try to make points,” user @gbp97 said in a viral reaction to the hearing, with many comments referring to Carter as a “boomer” with a derogatory tone.
One of the dumbest questions came from representative Richard Hudson from North Carolina, who asked: “Mr, Chew, does TikTok access the home wi-fi network?”
Chew paused for a moment before answering. “Only if the user turns on the wi-fi,” he said. “I’m sorry, I may not understand the question.”
“So, if I have the TikTok app on my phone and my phone is on my home wi-fi network, does TikTok access that network?” Hudson persisted.
Visibly confused, Chew responded. “It would have to … to access the network to get connections to the internet, if that’s the question.”
Carter later asked how the app determined the age of a user, insinuating that it must be from biometric data. Chew explained that users provided their age when they signed up for an account.
I think the best from Carter was the question he posed about whether the app used face data, and Chew having to explain that TikTok needed to analyse a user's face in order to use video filters.
“There needs to be an age limit in Congress,” user @rachelhannahh commented about a clip of Carter.
Many of the most viral reaction videos called out how often politicians pressing Chew seemed to be interrupting him instead of letting him answer their questions.
In a line of questioning about dangerous trends, like the 2021 “Blackout Challenge”, Carter did not let Chew have more than two or three seconds before he cut in with his own rant.
Although much of the backlash to the hearing was impassioned, some US users resorted to making jokes and memes to highlight just how out of touch they believed their congresspeople were during the hearing.
“There is a lot of dangerous stuff on here. I saw a young man surfing on the subway to collect coins. SMH,” one user joked, referencing the game “Subway Surfers”.
TikTok user @tems_and_i commented “they wouldn’t treat Mark or Elon like this”, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter and Tesla boss Elon Musk.
Another user commented that watching the hearing was like watching someone trying to explain technology to their grandparents.
Many users denounced how Congress was handling tenable concerns over the app’s security threats, saying lawmakers seemed uninformed about how the app worked, thereby making Americans look “dumb” on a world stage.
The Biden administration told TikTok earlier this month that if its Chinese owners didn't sell their stakes in the app to a US company, it would face being banned.
As a South African, I do feel a bit better that, as a country being led by geriatrics with little understanding of technology, we are not alone.
* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.