Chinese-owned TikTok reportedly paid for the transportation of popular influencers on its platform to appear in Washington as the company’s CEO appeared before congress.
Wired reports that the social media behemoth TikTok launched a large-scale campaign in D.C., which included paying for TikTok influencers to meet their home state lawmakers, staffers, and journalists as TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew got ready to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives.
The troubled Chinese tech giant paid for dozens of influencers, who collectively have an audience of about 60 million followers, to travel to Washington, including covering their meals, hotel bill, and travel costs. As they interacted with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the influencers were urged to share their journey with their followers.
According to Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, the company wanted to draw attention to the potential effects of a U.S. ban on the platform on Americans who allegedly depend on it for their livelihoods. Brown stated, “More than 150 million Americans, including 5 million U.S. businesses, rely on TikTok to innovate, find community, and support their livelihoods.” He emphasized that TikTok provided financial support for the influencers and their guests to ensure they could attend the event without any barriers.
While some influencers claimed to have paid for their airfare, most used TikTok’s free hotel offer. On the app, influencer Alexandra Doten goes by the handle @astro_alexandra. She shared her experience: “I got the hotel too! I don’t know. They just shuttle me there.”
The company’s initiative aimed to allow these influencers to meet with legislators and discuss the possible repercussions of a social media platform ban. Jorge Alverez, a mental health advocate from New Jersey, said, “They took us here, but we’re not being paid. TikTok paid for transportation—that’s also public information.”
However, lawmakers’ responses to the campaign have been conflicted. While some lawmakers have backed TikTok, arguing that it doesn’t threaten the nation any more than other social media sites, others — including prominent conservatives — have persisted in calling for the company to be banned due to privacy and national security concerns.
TikTok has spent over $10 million on lobbying over the last two years in addition to funding influencers, and it recently hired the Hotline Agency, a creative communications agency with offices in Los Angeles, to help influence Washington. Ahead of the hearing, the company also unveiled new safety features, such as a 60-minute daily app usage cap for kids.
Even though TikTok is trying to win over supporters, it is still unclear whether the company’s goodwill tour will convince the many congressional opponents who believe the app poses a threat to U.S. national security, especially after a hearing that onlookers called an “abject disaster.” Breitbart News reported extensively on yesterday’s hearing.
Read more at Wired here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan