The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Columnist Emily Chang highlights anti-Asian rhetoric in a recent Congressional hearing on social media. Credit: Ethan Young

On Jan. 31, the leaders of many prominent social media companies testified before Congress, addressing concerns of children’s safety on their online platforms. In light of growing claims that such technology harms youth mentally and physically, the chief executives of Meta, Snap, TikTok, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Discord were subject to intense interrogation from Senate members. 

So, in a hearing about children’s safety, why was one leader’s citizenship status and nationality a recurring point of contention? 

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was asked a whopping eight times by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) about his citizenship and connection to the Chinese government. Despite Chew repeatedly affirming that he is Singaporean, this “McCarthy-esque” questioning continued to proceed. 

Because TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, there have been fears that the app poses potential security concerns and has the power to reveal sensitive information to the Chinese government. But regardless of these data breach concerns, the discussion about China was completely irrelevant to the hearing’s intended purpose: addressing children's safety on online platforms. The subject at hand revolved around the alleged risks posed by social media products, not data security. In fact, the hearing itself was titled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.” 

The hearing’s divergence from questions about online safety to questions about citizenship and nationality — particularly addressed to the only non-white CEO testifying — demonstrates the underlying motives and racial prejudices present within Congress. 

Excessively grilling Chew about such topics makes it clear that Cotton was determined to find some thread connecting him to China. Both Singapore and China do not even allow dual citizenship, yet Cotton proceeded to ask multiple times if Chew was a citizen of any other nation and if he had Chinese citizenship. He also asked if Chew was a member of the Chinese Communist Party — disregarding the party requirement for members to be Chinese citizens — which Chew already established he was not. Therefore, these questions were not only offensive, but they were also a complete waste of time.

This highlights the flagrant hypocrisy that runs rampant in American politics, as other companies have experienced similar issues without the same level of scrutiny and discrimination. For example, there have been security concerns involving Apple’s connections to the Chinese government, yet the company’s white CEO was not questioned about communism. 

Not only was Chew singled out in these questions about communism, but his answers were also blatantly disregarded. When asked if he had ever been associated or affiliated with the CCP, Chew sternly responded, “No, Senator. Again, I’m Singaporean.” Despite this definitive response, Cotton later asserted that he “dodged simple questions” about his relationship with the CCP. It is appalling how a clear “no” could be misconstrued as “dodging” a question, and this demonstrates how Cotton merely sought to advance his own narrative rather than actually listen to the answers being provided to him. 

The fact that Chew had to repeat his Singaporean identity over and over again further exemplifies the disrespect he was forced to endure. The video footage of this interrogation is almost comical: How many times does Chew need to confirm that he is from Singapore, not China, before Cotton will finally believe him? Or is Cotton unable to discern the difference between two Asian nationalities? 

“This is absolutely phenomenal in its revelation of how racist our government is, not just because the question itself is Sinophobic, but also because it's clear that Tom Cotton can't tell Asians apart even when they tell him,” said journalist and editor Heidi Moore

Though Chew is of Chinese descent, he has made it more than clear that his nationality is Singaporean, and only Singaporean. Just because someone is ethnically Chinese does not mean they are automatically from China and that they are automatically affiliated with the CCP. Even if Chew did hold Chinese citizenship — which he repeatedly confirmed that he does not — it would still be wrong to assume that he has any connection to communism. 

To make things worse, this is not the first time Chew’s words have been ignored. Back in March 2023, he delivered his first testimony regarding TikTok security measures and online safety, but assumptions about being Chinese and being connected to the CCP had already surfaced. It is unnerving that the same xenophobic line of questioning was re-employed a year later, demonstrating how Congress chose not to listen to Chew the first time around. 

Our government’s consistent expression of xenophobic rhetoric is not only disgraceful, but dangerous. We place our trust in America’s leaders and lawmakers, but it is difficult to rely on those that remain riddled with prejudice. As political figures continue to wield their power in advancing these beliefs, it is not surprising that such sentiment trickles into the broader culture of our country. 

EMILY CHANG is a College senior studying communication and law and society from Holmdel, N.J. Her email address is