TikTok is ahead The embattled tech firm’s much-anticipated testimony before the United States House of Representatives today by CEO Shaw Zichu held a full court on Capitol Hill. That included paying for TikTok influencers to meet face-to-face with their home state’s lawmakers, staff and journalists — and, of course, share their journey with a combined audience of about 60 million followers.
According to the creators and the company itself, TikTok covers travel, hotels, meals and transportation to and from the Capitol for dozens of influencers. Each social media star was also invited to give a “plus one” – whether they flew in from Oklahoma, took an Acela from New York or drove from their home in the Washington suburbs. TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown confirms that “TikTok covered travel expenses for all creators and guests.”
“They helped overcome any barriers that prevented them from getting here,” said Tiffany Yu, a Los Angeles influencer and disability advocate who was chosen to speak at a news conference under the stately dome of the Capitol yesterday.
While some influencers report paying for their own airfare to Washington, everyone we spoke to was getting a free hotel. It is not clear what exactly people were offered as part of the trip to Washington, but it would seem that everyone received one benefit or another. In addition to the more than 30 influencers in attendance, along with their travel buddies, WIRED counted 10 other people who were at the Capitol in one way or another on behalf of TikTok.
“More than 150 million Americans, including 5 million U.S. businesses, rely on TikTok to innovate, find community and support their livelihoods,” said TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown. – Banning TikTok in the US could have a direct impact on the livelihoods of millions. Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok need to hear firsthand from the people whose lives will directly depend on their decisions.”
Nearly a dozen influencers WIRED spoke with made no secret of the fact that TikTok brought them to Washington to support the campaign. (The plan was first reported by Politico and The Information.) “They brought us here, but they don’t pay us,” says Jorge Alverez, a mental health advocate in New Jersey. TikTok “paid for the transport – this is also public information”.
Alexandra Doten, a space communications expert who uses the app @astro_alexandra, lives near Washington, DC. But she says she’s also received support from the company. “I got a hotel too!” she says. “I don’t know. They just take me there.”
While Doten was able to meet with her congressman, Glenn Ivey of Maryland, this week, her highlight was meeting astronaut-turned-Arizona senator Mark Kelly. She also got a real taste of life in the Capitol when another state senator, independent Kirsten Sinema, sent a staffer to meet with influencers on her behalf. It’s unclear whether their goodwill tour will sway any of TikTok’s myriad critics in Congress, who argue the app poses a threat to US national security.
Chew is the latest in a line of Big Tech executives to face hostile (though often uninformed) lawmakers. But unlike Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg or Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Chew is the only CEO to have banned technology from US government devices or been accused of being a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party.