In response to a query about interference from the Chinese government, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew gave a rare public interview today at The New York Times’ DealBook conference, telling the host Andrew Ross Sorkin that he is “responsible for all the strategic decisions at TikTok.”
Even though many of his responses seemed to be lifted directly from the Zuckerberg and Dorsey social networking is good for the world playbook from the 2010s, the 40-year-old Chew was funny and at ease for the majority of the interview. You may not be aware that TikTok enables users to express themselves and create communities around like-minded individuals.
Chew is especially proud of the hashtag community booktok, which has amassed over 70 billion views and has grown to be a major player in the publishing sector. But when asked about the potential harm TikTok might do to young women, he rebuffed. (Actually, that is also straight out of the Instagram playbook from the early 2010s.)
In addition, Chew was prepared for inquiries regarding Chinese interference in TikTok, whose ownership by China-based ByteDance has led to calls for the app’s ban on both sides of the political spectrum. “We take all these concerns seriously, we study them, and we have been working with [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] to solve what we think is a very solvable problem,” he told Sorkin.
The solution is called “Project Texas,” and it involves moving TikTok’s data from Singapore and Virginia to a new Oracle cloud infrastructure in the US, where only a team of US citizens will be able to access it. According to Chew, the system is “expensive to build and difficult to do, but we are doing it to address these concerns.”
In terms of data localization, Chew said, “We are in the lead.” “No business organizes data this way.”
After highlighting the company’s transparency reports, he continued by saying that the only real solution is transparency. He added that “no foreign government has ever asked us for user data, and if they did, we would say no.”
The famous TikTok algorithm, which suggests content based on user signals like watch time and engagement, is “just math,” according to Chew, who also noted that the algorithm in the United States and China are already different because the various user groups interact differently.
Elon Musk’s investment in Twitter was also brought up, and he commented that the future is still uncertain because “Elon is a very successful entrepreneur.” However, he did express his disagreement with Elon’s decision to fire those teams from Twitter, saying that “platform safety is incredibly important” and that “platforms need to invest in trust and safety.”
In addition to advising the parents in the audience to set up the monitoring settings on their children’s TikTok accounts, Chew said, “We have a responsibility to invest more to ensure that any trends and content not suitable for young people is moderated off the platform.”
TikTok is the only platform of its size, according to Chew, that does not accept political advertisements because they do not fulfill the company’s mission of fostering creativity and spreading joy. He stated, “We don’t think political ads do this,” to the audience’s laughter.