TikTok's Shou Zi Chew says it makes sense that Joe Biden joined the platform

At Leap 2024 in Riyadh, TikTok chief also discussed algorithms and efforts at keeping users safe

Shou Zi Chew said much of the content on TikTok was 'inspiring and joyful'. The Washington Post
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Amid continued global popularity coupled with increasing scrutiny from various regulators and officials, TikTok’s chief executive Shou Zi Chew reaffirmed the platform's ultimate goal is to “inspire creativity and create joy”, and also said it “makes sense” that Joe Biden’s US presidential campaign joined the platform.

Mr Chew made the comments at the Leap 2024 conference in Riyadh, a four-day technology exhibition featuring established companies, budding start-ups, entrepreneurs and government officials from around the world.

“We think that it makes sense for them,” he said, when asked about Mr Biden’s campaign, which started posting videos to TikTok in early February.

“This is a great platform to send a message and to connect to large community of engaged users,” Mr Chew said, noting other political campaigns and various causes have joined the social platform.

The user-generated video-sharing platform, has an estimated 1 billion active monthly users and has been the social-network du jour, particularly among younger people.

“Our most viral content is usually the very joyful content, it’s inspiring and joyful,” the chief said during a fireside chat at the Riyadh Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Despite its ascent to the top of app download charts and being on the tip of every tongue in the tech world and social media users, TikTok is not without its critics, particularly among regulators in Europe and North America.

TikTok is owned in part by China-based ByteDance, and concerns and speculation have swirled about how the platform saves and uses personal user data.

While testifying before the US Congress in last year, Mr Chew, a Singaporean, dismissed concerns raised by representatives.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” he said during his opening remarks.

In India the platform is banned and US elected officials have gone as far as to suggest the app might present a national security risk, in part because of TikTok’s financial connection to China.

Several US federal legislators have suggested a potential ban of the app unless ByteDance divests from the company.

Concerns about the potential for child exploitation, though not unique to TikTok, have also been a talking point.

Mr Chew told the packed auditorium that the company has invested significantly in keeping users safe and that the work is continuing.

“Safety is a core part of the TikTok experience,” he said, referring to protections for users under 18 such as truncated features and screen time limits.

Under 13s are not allowed to use the app, according to the company’s policies.

There is also concern regarding elections taking place in various parts of the world, about inauthentic behaviour or potentially fake, AI-generated videos appearing on TikTok, something Mr Chew said he was already addressing.

“We catch, remove and publish about them [inauthentic actors] in a transparency report,” he said. “We’re making the right investments [in security] to identify the inauthentic behaviour, especially with all the elections taking place across the world this year."

As for what keeps TikTok’s popularity and momentum going, Mr Chew said the platform’s emphasis on not focusing solely on who people follow had proved significant.

“We thought that content should be recommended to people not just based on who they follow, and instead the innovation we brought in was showing people what they like,” he said, noting TikTok’s algorithm, which takes in account of how long videos are played, replayed, shared and stitched.

“That really is the secret."

During his visit to Saudi Arabia for Leap, TikTok has announced a strategic partnership with non-profit organisations Injaz Al Arab and Injaz Saudi to use its platform to raise awareness of employability skills among young people in Saudi Arabia.

“Entrepreneurship and employment initiatives are critical to realising Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the nation’s ambitious road map for economic transformation,” said Helena Lersch, TikTok’s vice president of public policy and global head of corporate social responsibility.

“TikTok is committed to working with local leaders to support initiatives that will help realise this vision and be a platform to inspire the next generation.”

Updated: March 06, 2024, 3:03 PM