Congress Might Not Have TikTok CEO’s Back, but the Internet Sure Does

  • On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
  • Wall Street slammed Chew’s testimony, dubbing it a “disaster moment” for TikTok.
  • But the internet had a different reaction: He was applauded, embraced, and even compared to Pedro Pascal.

Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, testified in front of Congress Thursday, as calls for a forced sale of its US business or a ban gain momentum.

The hearing quickly devolved into a bloodbath of “yes or no” questions from politicians on both sides of the aisle, several of whom appeared uninterested in hearing full responses from the executive, Insider’s Dan Whateley and Aaron Mok wrote.

The idea behind the hearing was to give TikTok — an app that says it has 150 million monthly active users in the US, or almost half the country’s population — a chance to assuage lawmakers’ concerns about the social media app’s data privacy policies and its ties to China via its parent company Bytedance.

Instead, the testimony drew criticism from Wall Street. 

Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush, wrote in a report on Thursday that the testimony was “a ‘disaster’ moment that will likely catalyze more calls by lawmakers and the White House to look to ban TikTok within the US if the company does not look to spin-off and force a sale from Chinese parent ByteDance.”

“I don’t think he made any new friends today and changed any minds,” said Matthew Schettenhelm, Bloomberg Intelligence’s senior litigation and government analyst.

But snippets from the testimony also went viral on TikTok, with people mocking the proceedings and saying lawmakers don’t know the app well enough to litigate it.

And soon, Chew had the internet eating out of his hand. 

Wall Street slammed Chew’s testimony. It’s a different story on the internet.

Chew, who was born and raised in Singapore, got an MBA from Harvard, interned at Facebook while it was still a startup, and previously worked for the Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi and ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. He was appointed the CEO of TikTok in May 2021. Since his appointment, Chew, 40, has been battling accusations of TikTok’s ties to the Chinese communist party and data privacy concerns.

The support for Chew and TikTok started gearing up before the hearing began.

“I’m on TikTok’s side through and through,” a popular TikTok creator with nearly 42,000 followers said in video shared on March 22.

Unsurprisingly, much of the support for Chew is playing out on his own TikTik account, where he goes by the handle @shou.time and has more than 45,000 followers.

“Regardless of the outcome, thank you for creating such a platform for the world. The interconnectedness you gave us will not be forgotten,” reads a comment with over 1,000 likes under his latest TikTok video of Rihanna at this year’s Super Bowl.

“I apologize for USA congress. You are amazing,” reads a comment with more than 800 likes under another video.  

LA-based fashion content creator Janette Ok posted a video on March 23 of herself meeting Chew. The majority of the comments under the video are strongly in favor of Chew.

“That man became a celebrity! I’m with Shou,” reads one comment that’s gotten over 3,000 likes.

And the support he’s garnering isn’t restrained to merely the business world.

There’s even a fan video edit of pictures of the CEO with a TikTok sound typically used for celebrities being thirsted over by fans. The video has over 1.2 million views, over 215,000 likes, and a range of comments expressing their approval for Chew.

“More edits of this man! Let’s give him the Pedro Pascal treatment,” reads one comment with over 12,400 likes, referencing the internet’s latest extreme celebrity crush.

“Dats my man, imma stand beside him,” reads another comment with over 29,200 likes. 

Why is the internet loving Chew so much right now?

Two days before the Congressional hearing, TikTok’s official account shared a rare video of Chew casually introducing himself to people. In the video, Chew gave context about the hearing and asked viewers to tell him what they enjoyed about the app.

The video has garnered almost 2 million likes as of March 24. The majority of the 130,000 comments on it are positive.

Sharing the video was a brilliant marketing strategy that’s helped get the internet on Chew’s side, said Crystal Abidin, a professor of internet studies at Curtin University and the founder of TikTok Cultures Research Network. Abidin has been researching the app since 2018.

“In the open invitation for people to comment what they enjoyed about the app — that was also quite a clever PR strategy,” Abidin said.

She said Chew’s demeanor in the hearing also helped fuel the internet’s positive reaction. She described his responses as tight and neat, and his composure as professional. Many of the social media responses that have gone viral — especially from people of Asia-Pacific descent — have focused on how the tone of the interrogators, in contrast, was rude and condescending, Abidin said.

She added that unlike the cult of personality seen widely among Silicon Valley’s tech CEOs, Chew’s popularity is “not so much the cult of his celebrity persona.”

“I think this is one of the few instances where a globally popular app has as the face of the app — the CEO — a non-white American man,” she said, adding: “So there is that level also just being impressed because he seems like he can hold his own.”