A Senate committee hearing tasked with assessing TikTok, WeChat and other social media platforms’ risk to Australian democracy has been pushed back for reasons unknown.
The reasoning behind the delay is currently unclear. Gizmodo Australia contacted the office of committee chair, Senator Jenny McAllister, as well as TikTok for clarification but didn’t receive a response in time for publication.
TikTok Australia previously confirmed it would send representatives to the committee’s hearing to face tough questions over allegations it sends user data to the Chinese government.
“TikTok is committed to transparent dialogue with our community, including policy makers and we will work with the Committee as we engage with this process,” a TikTok spokesperson said to Gizmodo Australia in an email.
“TikTok welcomes ongoing discussions with government audiences as we work to remain a safe, fun and creative platform for people to express themselves.”
Gizmodo Australia has contacted Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, for word on whether it intends to send representatives to the hearing. We’ll update once we hear a response.
TikTok, WeChat facing a Trump-ordered ban in the United States
TikTok has faced intense scrutiny over allegations it has ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The video sharing app, along with the Chinese-owned WeChat, has been at the centre of President Trump’s tirade against China. Both apps are expected to be banned entirely from the United States by mid-September if Trump’s executive orders remain in place.
The app has had its fair share of drama locally after an unnamed federal politician called for it to be banned. The anonymous source was quoted in a Herald Sun report and alleged the app had been ‘hoovering’ up the user data of 1.6 million Australians and sending it to the Chinese government. TikTok Australia strenuously denies these allegations and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since said there was no evidence behind them.
It’s not just TikTok and WeChat that are facing the tough questions. Facebook, Twitter and Google have also been asked to attend the committee’s public hearings.
The committee has already heard from a number of experts including the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a defence and strategic policy think tank, in June. It was revealed at least 130,000 Facebook users had been exposed to a disinformation campaign during the 2019 federal election period.
The inquiry is expected to deliver its report by March 2022 after hearing from more industry experts and social media representatives.