Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D, NY-16) is pushing back against Washington’s bipartisan effort to ban TikTok by calling the latest move a racist “hysteria” toward China.
Bowman, a member of the group of progressive House lawmakers known as the Squad, joined over two dozen content creators and lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Garcia (D, CA-42) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D, WI-2), at a protest outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
During the organized event, Bowman asked the public and his fellow lawmakers to “not be racist towards China and express our xenophobia when it comes to TikTok,” a popular social media platform owned by Beijing-based parent company ByteDance.
At the protest, Bowman described the app as “a space for free speech for 150 million Americans and counting,” adding that banning TikTok would have a serious effect on small businesses and other Americans who rely on the app to make a living.
“It’s also a place where 5 million small businesses are selling their products and services and making a living. Making a living is at a time when our economy is struggling. Why the hysteria and the panic and the targeting of TikTok?” he said.
Bowman went on to accuse some Republicans of sounding the alarm to create another Red Scare on China, stating that TikTok has the same potential to be a national security threat as the other big tech companies operating in the United States.
“In terms of TikTok’s behavior and its risk to national security, it poses about the same threat that companies like Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter pose,” he said. “So let’s not marginalize and target TikTok.”
In a recent tweet, Bowman suggested that instead of banning TikTok, Congress should lay down “comprehensive legislation” that would protect social media users’ data from what he described at the protest as “data brokers.”
“You can ban TikTok but there are still data brokers that sell our data to other countries and businesses in other countries — they sell to the highest bidder,” Bowman said.
The protest came a day before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to appear in Congress to answer lawmakers’ concerns regarding the app’s potential ability to give the Chinese government access to American users’ data, as well as the risks it poses to the mental health of younger users.
The popular social media app has already rolled out certain measures to address the issues in the past years, such as spending over $1.5 billion on security, deleting American user data from its storage center in Virginia and Singapore and limiting the daily usage of users below 18 to one hour.
The protest also came weeks after the White House endorsed a bipartisan Senate bill that would grant the Commerce Department powers to ban TikTok nationwide.
Several lawmakers from both American political parties slammed Bowman’s effort to defend TikTok.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) urged President Joe Biden to denounce Bowman’s stance in a tweet on Tuesday, writing, “Democrat [Jamaal Bowman] is joining with 20+ TikTok influencers to oppose a ban of the Communist China app. First, it was defunding the police, and now it’s supporting Communist China.”
Similarly, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D, NJ-5) criticized Bowman and accused the New York lawmaker of being brainwashed in a statement to The New York Times.
“Anyone defending TikTok is either too caught up in being a social media celebrity or they’ve been brainwashed by the Chinese government’s propaganda,” Gottheimer said. “Both put our national security at risk.”
While lawmakers are slamming Bowman for his stance on the subject, Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said they appreciate the New York representative’s effort to defend the app.
“We appreciate the support of these members of Congress, and we will remain steadfast in our commitment to building a safe, secure and innovative platform,” Brown said per The New York Times.
Although Bowman asserted that he never met with anyone from TikTok, his aide noted that the social media platform facilitated a meeting between Bowman and the influencers TikTok paid to talk about the app’s benefits to lawmakers in Washington, The New York Times reported.