American companies have already ‘done the same or worse’ as TikTok’s data-sharing: Rep. Bowman

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) joins Yahoo Finance's Rachelle Akuffo to discuss the pace and intentions of U.S. regulation of TikTok, data privacy, the app's relationship with China, and the social media ecosystem as a whole.

Video Transcript


SEANA SMITH: TikTok CEO Shou Chew facing some tough questions from lawmakers today while he was testifying for hours just about the data, national security. Concerns also the social impact of his app. Yahoo Finance's Rachelle Akuffo has been tracking all of this for us. She's live for us down inside the Beltway on Capitol Hill. Rachelle?

RACHELLE AKUFFO: That's right, Seana. So I mean, one of the people who was really an opponent of this, he didn't testify today, but all along he's been saying, look, some of these lawmakers are really rushing and being too hasty in trying to ban TikTok. Here's a look at our conversation with Congressman Jamaal Bowman.

JAMAAL BOWMAN: I think we're moving too quickly to a conversation about a ban without having a real conversation about what's happening with TikTok and what's happening within the social media ecosystem. If the issue is data privacy and security, if the issue is data mining, if the issue is our data being sold to foreign countries or foreign companies, that's happening already on every social media platform.

So why are we scapegoating TikTok? And one of the things that's been happening over the last year is this entire fear mongering around China. China as the boogey person. And if that's the case, show me evidence that that's the case. But don't isolate OR, single out TikTok when all of the other social media companies, American companies have done the same and/or worse when it comes to data sharing.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Because when I did try and get specifics from lawmakers about the concrete evidence that they've seen that perhaps the CCP has found something or is using it nefariously, it did seem to be more about the speculation, as you mentioned. You called it the red scare in your press conference the other day. Why do you think that's the focus being that we still do have other Chinese apps that aren't being targeted, as well as you mentioned, social media companies.

JAMAAL BOWMAN: I believe hundreds of Chinese apps on our phones right now that could be gathering information that's shared with China that's currently in play that we're not talking about at all. I don't know. Facebook, it is well documented that Facebook looked the other way and allowed Russia to interfere in our 2016 election without telling anyone in real time as it was happening.

It's being speculated that Elon Musk and Twitter are sharing our information with foreign adversaries. So let's investigate the entire landscape. I'm an educator. I care deeply about privacy. I care deeply about security. There are data brokers right now who are exchanging our data, trading our data, selling our data on all platforms but we're not talking about that, we're just talking about TikTok. It's disingenuous and governing shouldn't be done in this way.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And you have been really calling for an honest conversation about this. Because as you mentioned, if it's ending up through third parties in other countries, a ban really then wouldn't do any good. So what would the purpose of a ban be then?

JAMAAL BOWMAN: It would show that we are strong on China. We love being strong on China and strong on our adversaries. And it's more of a facade. And it's more about creating the perception of good governance. Good governance is protecting the American people. And we have done a terrible job at that because we still have people dying because they don't have health care. We still have children going to bed hungry.

We had an insurrection just two years ago. And we have American social media platforms that's allowing our data to be bought and sold around the country. That's currently happening. These are facts. We have to get our own house in order and stop thinking that we need a foreign foil to be the best America that we could be.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And we did hear in testimony from Shou Chew that he talked about the positive aspects of it. And when I talked earlier to Congressman Obernolte, he said that he mentioned that I talked to him about the 5 million businesses that are on the platform.


RACHELLE AKUFFO: A lot of people are saying, look, this has been a boon for my livelihood. What do we do?

JAMAAL BOWMAN: 150 million Americans.


JAMAAL BOWMAN: Many of them young people. Many of them learn about politics and how Congress works from TikTok. You're going to take that away and force them onto other social media platforms who are still going to steal and sell their data while also giving you, in my opinion, more vitriol and hate and misinformation? Because on my TikTok feed I receive much less hate, much less vitriol, much less racism, and much less misinformation on my feed. On the other platforms I get that all the time.

It seems to be, and there might be some evidence to this, that TikTok is just a better product than these American products. And American companies are now organizing to get rid of that better product so they can make more money. That's how our toxic capitalist system works.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And you did hold a press conference really about free expression. And you had a lot of content creators there on TikTok who wanted to have their voices heard. What has been the reaction? Because we get the impression that at least from the testimony today that it's the people who are pushing for this.

JAMAAL BOWMAN: Yeah. It was very powerful, first of all. I got to meet so many people from all parts of the country who discovered their voice and found a place to share their voice and uplift their voice and connect with others around the world that they never would have connected with. They found a space where they are comfortable sharing their experiences and bringing people into their lives in a way that help to build community.

So TikTok as a caring community specifically for marginalized people is a powerful thing. It's what Facebook and Twitter and other places were supposed to be before the hate came in. We still have issues with safety and security on TikTok and everywhere else. So let's deal with that instead of dealing with them as the boogey person that is trying to facilitate Chinese espionage without any evidence whatsoever.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And we know that a number of lawmakers have put forward bills to try and address this, not just for TikTok, but for the broader industry. What do you think then would be some good key elements that would really at least offer some of the protections that lawmakers--

JAMAAL BOWMAN: So the European Union has an example of this. They have a national privacy piece of legislation for the whole EU. We need something like that here. There's no federal legislation on privacy and security. That's what we need to be focused on, number one.

Number two, big tech as a monopoly needs to be dealt with. And we haven't-- we introduced legislation last Congress. We haven't moved forward with that piece of legislation. Also the harms of tech, some of the addictive natures regarding the algorithms, because many of the algorithms want you to stay on tech as long as possible. We need to deal with that issue as well.

There are real issues to deal with. Let's deal with the real issues for all tech and not just, again, scapegoat one company.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And one of the lines that stood out from the press conference you said maybe Republicans don't like TikTok because they don't have swag. No. I know that you put that in the context of really engaging with young people. Talk more about that and perhaps the opportunities you see there.

JAMAAL BOWMAN: So many opportunities on all of social media. But most young people right now are on TikTok. Everyone was predicting a red wave for the 2022 elections. The red wave didn't happen. It mainly didn't happened because young people came out in droves to vote for Democrats and help us push back against a MAGA agenda. Many of those young people we've connected with on TikTok.

I have 11-year-olds, 10-year-olds in my district who follow me on TikTok and love to learn about what's happening here through my TikTok account. So let's make it better instead of banning it. And let's not miss this opportunity to make our democracy stronger.

And what I meant by the whole swag comment, Republicans don't know how to connect with young people. They struggle. Even some Democrats struggle to connect with young people. So do the work of democracy. Stop trying to suppress voices and votes with your ban on TikTok and ban on books and ban on trans and sports. And they just want to ban everything. And when you ban things, you silence people. When you silence people, they're not going to vote. And you can't win on the issues, so the most you can do is suppress their vote.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So Congressman Bowman that really is one of the few voices, one of the only voices that we've heard that does oppose a full ban on TikTok or at least having lawmakers do a bit more homework and perhaps do a bit more homework at home some of the US companies, the social media companies here that pose similar threats rather than just targeting TikTok.