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 woven into Americans’ daily lives than anyone realizes.
TikTok currently says about 100 million people in the US are regular users of the app. But when Chew testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, he will say the number has now reached 150 million, according to a senior Democratic strategist who advises TikTok.
That 50% increase in monthly active users in the US suggests that the app has become even more entrenched in the US over the nearly three years that Washington — under two presidential administrations — struggled with how to rein it in.
Lawmakers on both sides and the White House claim TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, poses a threat to national security because Beijing could use it to influence American public opinion or access Americans’ data for nefarious purposes. purposes, such as espionage.
In December, President Joe Biden signed a spending bill banning TikTok on US government devices. The Justice Department and FBI are currently investigating TikTok and ByteDance, including allegations that company employees spied on journalists.
Chew’s testimony comes as efforts in Washington to potentially ban TikTok in the US have reached a fever pitch. Biden now supports a bipartisan bill that could do just that, and his administration recently told TikTok that the Chinese owners sell their stake in the company or the app could face a US ban.
Its first appearance before Congress marks TikTok’s most high-profile standoff with lawmakers to date — and the app plans to lean on users, deemed “creators,” to counter efforts to ban it and criticism that it poses a threat to national security is to be counteracted.
Several dozen TikTok creators, including small business owners, entertainers and activists who see the app as key to their livelihood, plan to be in Washington on Wednesday ahead of Chew’s testimony to hold a press conference and address lawmakers. to meet, according to a person familiar with the schedule.
The lobbying efforts, first reported by The Information, will primarily highlight an economic argument: that banning TikTok could spell financial hardship for Americans who rely on it to generate revenue.
“TikTok creators are small business owners trying to make a living and putting food on the table, teachers training the next generation of leaders, and everyday innovators representing the breadth of America,” TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said in a statement. “Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok should hear firsthand from people whose lives are directly affected by their decisions.”
The possible 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 said he intends to do to do.
Underlining how Biden’s governmental and political strategies clash when it comes to TikTok, the president appeared in a video on the app Friday with Irish singer Niall Horan at the White House’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
But when asked last month whether the US 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 Chew will name in his congressional testimony Thursday do not include children under the age of 13, according to the senior Democratic strategist who advises TikTok.
But of those 150 million, about 12 million are under the age of 18 — about 8% — meaning about 138 million who are of voting age are regular TikTok users, the strategist said, adding that the average age of a regular TikTok user is 31. (Some of the 12 million regular TikTok users who are under the age of 18 will also be of voting age in 2024.)
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 49% of Americans supported a TikTok ban in the US, while 42% opposed it.
Opposition to a nationwide ban is significantly higher among Americans ages 18 to 34, according to the poll, with 63% opposing a ban and 33% in favor of a ban. Voters under the age of 35 tend to favor the Democrats by wide margins.
A breakdown of the poll among political parties suggests that a ban could hurt Democrats more: 64% of Republicans and 50% of independents support a ban, while 51% of Democrats oppose a ban.
TikTok is one of many risks at stake in tense US-China relations.
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a news conference last week that “the US has yet to prove that TikTok poses a threat to their national security.”
While TikTok has been a target of the US government for several years, with former President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban the app in 2020 blocked in court, the idea has only recently gained widespread momentum in Washington.
China passed a law in 2020, following Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok, which added to the government’s list of technologies that cannot be exported, meaning the algorithms used by TikTok could be considered off-limits and that Beijing could reject any sale.
TikTok has attempted to allay national security concerns from the US government by proposing to hire a US company to store the data of people in the US using the app.
Chew said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week that the Biden administration’s demand that Chinese stakeholders in TikTok divest would not address concerns that US officials have expressed.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com