The chief executive of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, was forced to defend his company’s relationship with China, as well as the protections for its youngest users, at a testy congressional hearing on Thursday that came amid a bipartisan push to ban the app entirely in the US over national security concerns.
The hearing marked the first appearance before US lawmakers by a TikTok chief executive, and a rare public outing for the 40-year-old Chew, who has remained largely out of the limelight as the social network’s popularity soars. TikTok boasts tens of millions of US users, but lawmakers have long held concerns over China’s control over the app, which Chew repeatedly tried to assuage throughout the hearing. “Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew said in his testimony.
Questioning got off to a forceful start with members of the committee hammering Chew on his connection to executives at TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, who lawmakers say have ties to the Chinese Communist party. The committee members asked how frequently Chew was in contact with them, and questioned whether the company’s proposed solutions to US data security concerns would offer sufficient protection against Chinese laws that require companies to make user data accessible to the government.
What are the key takeaways from TikTok hearing in Congress? Chew defended TikTok’s privacy practices, stating they are are in line with those of other social media platforms, adding that in many cases the app collects less data than its peers. “There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them,” Chew said. Here are some of the other key criticisms Chew faced at yesterday’s landmark hearing, and what could lie ahead.
US strikes Iran-backed group in Syria after deadly attack on coalition base
The US has carried out airstrikes on an Iran-backed group in Syria, after an American contractor was killed when a suspected Iranian-made drone attacked a coalition base in the country’s north-east.
Five US service members and one other US contractor were wounded in the attack on Thursday, the Pentagon said.
In a statement released later on Thursday, the US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said US Central Command forces retaliated against the attack with “precision airstrikes” against facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Did the strikes kill anyone? Yes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported: “US strikes targeted a weapons depots inside Deir ez-Zor city, killing six pro-Iran fighters, and two other fighters were killed by strikes targeting the desert of Mayadine and near al-Boukamal.”
‘Like a war zone’: Congress hears of China’s abuses in Xinjiang ‘re-education camps’
Two women who say they experienced and escaped Chinese “re-education camps” have provided first-hand testimony to members of the US Congress, giving harrowing detail while imploring Americans not to look away from what the US has declared a continuing genocide of Muslim ethnic minorities.
Testifying before a special House committee at the beginning of Ramadan, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uyghur woman, said that during her nearly three years in internment camps and police stations, prisoners were subjected to 11 hours of “brainwashing education” each day. It included singing patriotic songs and praising the Chinese government before and after meals.
Haitiwaji said detainees were punished for speaking in Uyghur and endured routine interrogations during which they were hooded and shackled to their chairs. On one occasion, she said, she was chained to her bed for 20 days. Female prisoners were told they would be vaccinated, when they were being sterilized.
“There are cameras all over the camp,” Haitiwaji said. “Our every move was monitored.”
What did the other woman say? Qelbinur Sidik, a member of China’s ethnic Uzbek minority who is now a human rights activist living in the Netherlands, told of being coerced by Chinese authorities into teaching classes at one of China’s internment camps. Through a translator, she described the detention facilities as “like a war zone” with razor wire fencing and armed guards. Sidik recalled hearing the “horrible screaming sounds” of Uyghur prisoners as they were tortured.
In other news …
The governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, has signed sweeping legislation requiring explicit parental permissions for anyone under 18 to use platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. He also signed a bill prohibiting social media companies from employing techniques that could cause minors to develop an “addiction” to the platforms.
The families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira have voiced frustration and anger after the preliminary court hearings of three of their alleged murderers had to be suspended in Brazil because of poor internet and logistical problems at the high-security prisons where the defendants are being held.
The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, accused Republicans in the US Congress of interfering in his investigation of Donald Trump over a hush money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. Bragg published his letter as it became clear another day would pass without an indictment of Trump.
An asteroid big enough to wipe out a city will pass harmlessly between Earth and the moon’s orbit this weekend, missing both, while providing scientists a chance to study the object close up. Asteroid flybys are common but Nasa said it was rare for one so big to come so close.
Stat of the day: Majority of trans adults are happier after transitioning, survey finds
A large majority of transgender adults say that transitioning has made them more satisfied with their life, according to a survey. The survey, conducted by the Washington Post and KFF, is the largest nongovernmental survey of transgender adults that uses random samplings. The questionnaire found that a majority of transgender adults are happier after transitioning, with 78% of respondents noting that living as a gender outside the one assigned at birth has increased their satisfaction in life, reported the Washington Post. More than four out of 10 adults noted that they are “a lot more” satisfied. While overall rates of life satisfaction among trans adults were lower than the general population, many survey participants said that was largely due to discrimination facing trans people.
Don’t miss this: Ethical no man’s land – can the US supreme court be trusted to police itself?
The nation’s highest court relies on justices to judge for themselves if they have a conflict of interest. Often members of the hard-right majority decide they don’t. Last July, Samuel Alito, one of the nine justices of the US supreme court, delivered the keynote speech at a gala dinner held at the Palazzo Colonna in Rome. The justice had been flown out to Rome by the Religious Liberty Initiative, an outpost of the University of Notre Dame law school that advocates for religious freedom informed by the Catholic tradition. This was not the group’s first contact with Alito. The initiative and its faculty have filed amicus briefs with the supreme court in at least six high-profile cases since it was founded in 2020. Two of the group’s fellows filed amicus briefs arguing against the constitutional right to an abortion in Dobbs, the case that led to the court overturning Roe v Wade in a contentious ruling written by Alito.
… or this: ‘These are my stomping grounds’ – the first Black-owned bookstore opens in Octavia Butler’s home town
Books are strewn everywhere and are awaiting their turn to be shuffled into their assigned nooks in tall black shelves, writes Jireh Deng. It’s just seven days until the grand opening of Nikki High’s southern California bookstore and despite the frenzy, the independent bookseller is outwardly calm and collected in the chaos, managing self-care and getting a full nine hours of sleep a night. She’s been plotting this day for months. Her store, Octavia’s Bookshelf, Pasadena’s first and only Black-owned bookstore, was inspired by the speculative-fiction writer Octavia E Butler, who spent her life and career in the city. High wanted her bookstore to reflect the values of Butler’s writings and to specialize in selling the work of writers of color.
Climate check: Cargo ships powered by wind could help tackle climate crisis
Cars, trucks and planes get plenty of blame for helping drive the climate crisis, but shipping produces a large portion of the world’s greenhouse gases, as well as nitrogen oxides and sulphur pollution because ships largely use cheap heavy fuel oil. It’s been a struggle to clean up the shipping industry but one solution is to use wind-powered ships. That may seem like going back to the days of the Cutty Sark, but new hi-tech wind-propulsion can be fitted to existing ships to cut fuel use, supplying between 10% and 90% of a ship’s power needs, depending on where on the ocean they are and which weather patterns they harness. Wind is free, blows harder at sea than on land and weather-routing software uses sophisticated algorithms to plot the fastest and most fuel-efficient voyage.
Last Thing: Harvard physicist plans Pacific expedition to find first interstellar meteor
A prominent Harvard physicist is planning a Pacific expedition to find what he thinks might be an alien artifact that smashed into the ocean. Avi Loeb announced that he is organizing a $1.5m ocean expedition to Papua New Guinea to look for fragments of an object that crashed off the coast of its Manus Island in 2014. Loeb noticed the object in 2019 and identified it as the first interstellar meteor ever discovered – meaning it originated outside our solar system. According to Loeb, the meteor’s interstellar origin was confirmed to Nasa in April 2022 by the Department of Defense’s space command. Loeb and his team also concluded that the meteor was tougher than all other 272 meteors in Nasa’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies catalog.
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