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Tiktok's lobbying tops $5.4M in 2022 as it brings its charm offensive to Congress

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The chief executive of TikTok is expected to tell lawmakers in Washington tomorrow that the Chinese-owned company has put guardrails around the personal data belonging to American users. The prepared testimony from Shou Zi Chew will lay out a plan for Texas-based software company Oracle to store and oversee the storage of that information. Faced with President Biden's demand that the company be sold or banned in the U.S., TikTok is also pouring millions into shifting the narrative away from national security concerns. NPR's Dara Kerr reports.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: TikTok is holding a press conference featuring influencers who have popular accounts, like Back in the Kitchen with Bae. Other TikTok creators, like Ashley Capps, who lives in Florida, are taking action online during Thursday's congressional hearing.

ASHLEY CAPPS: I will be livestreaming it, funnily enough, on my TikTok.

KERR: Capps' livelihood depends on TikTok. It's how she gets clients for her business, where she teaches people skills like gardening and document research. She opposes a TikTok ban.

CAPPS: I'm not even a fan of using the term ban because I just want to be snarky. I'm like, well, yeah, they banned drugs, and we all see how that happened.

KERR: TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown told NPR that lawmakers should hear firsthand from people whose lives would be directly affected. The company says it has 150 million monthly active users in the U.S. TikTok has amped up its lobbying efforts. It spent 5.4 million on lobbying last year. That's in the same ballpark as Google and Facebook.

SARAH BRYNER: In 2019, they spent essentially pennies on lobbying activity. And now they have spent the fourth most of any tech company lobbying Congress.

KERR: Sarah Bryner is the research director at OpenSecrets, which is a nonprofit that tracks lobbying spending.

BRYNER: Nothing spurs lobbying activity like the threat of being regulated.

KERR: And now there are a lot of eyes on TikTok.

Dara Kerr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.