The questioning of TikTok CEO's nationality and his potential links to the Chinese Communist Party last week has ignited an online uproar with local sentiments surrounding the situation plummeted to 0.3% positive and 53.4% negative, according to media intelligence firm CARMA.
The negative sentiments were due to the many media outlets and social media commenters expressing frustration with Senator Tom Cotton’s line of questioning towards Chew Shou Zi and the stereotypes about Asians, said CARMA.
Words such as "stupid" and "claims" also stood out in the online word cloud.
Chew was speaking alongside executives of other major tech giants such as Meta, X and Snap which were testifying before US lawmakers on the harm social media can do to children.
During the hearing, what stood out was that Chew was questioned repeatedly on his nationality and if he has any affiliations to the Chinese Communist Party by Cotton.
During the hearing, Cotton asked what nation Chew was a citizen of. Chew confirmed that he is Singaporean and that being so, he was unable to hold a dual citizenship in any other country. However, he was pressed by Cotton about this point and asked if he has ever applied for a Chinese citizenship.
When Chew said no, Cotton pressed him and asked if he had ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Chew again affirmed that he is Singaporean and that to be part of the Chinese Communist Party, you need to be a Chinese citizen.
Media intelligence firm Truescope’s analysis revealed that netizens, especially in Singapore, were critcal of Cotton's questioning of Chew. Critics highlighted concerns about the appropriateness, necessity, and perceived ignorance of the questions, with some expressing views that it felt like an intense "interrogation." Some suggested that there may be an agenda behind the senator's line of questioning, attributing it to a dismissive stance towards Chew's rebuttals.
Kelvin Koh, Managing Director of Truescope Singapore added that netizens admired Chew for maintaining a calm demeanour throughout the questioning and praised his patience in dealing with the senators. Supporters even shared that they themselves might not have remained as composed in a similar situation.
With TikTok being operated by Chinese firm ByteDance, concerns regarding the social media platform's links to China are not new. In fact, this is the second time Chew has appeared before US lawmakers about TikTok's data practices and how it protects younger users.
In March last year, Chew fought for his app's life in an almost five-hour congressional hearing. In the hearing, Chew worked hard to convince US lawmakers that TikTok does not sell data to the Chinese government, uses controls to protect younger users from harmful or inappropriate content, and takes sufficient steps to protect the mental health of the young with controls.
Never dropping his composure, Chew appeared unfazed last year throughout the marathon questioning and was able to calmly respond to questions such as if TikTok accesses the home Wi-Fi network of users – a question posed by Republican Richard Hudson.
In response to Hudson’s question last year, Chew noted that TikTok could only access the Wi-Fi network if a user turns on their Wi-Fi.
“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 asked in a clip seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE.
“It would have to access the network to get connections to the Internet, if that's the question,” replied Chew. Hudson went on to ask if it was possible for TikTok to access other devices on that home Wi-Fi network.
“Congressman, we do not do anything that is beyond any industry norms. I believe the answer to your question is no. It could be technical. Let me get back to you," Chew said calmly.
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