Readership Learnings from TikTok’s Congressional Crisis

Eddie Kim, CEO

March 30th, 2023

Social media giant TikTok faces a potential ban in the U.S., potentially eliminating roughly 150 million of the company’s monthly active users. CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress in an attempt to temper the U.S. government’s concerns around data privacy and Chinese government intrusion.

Recaps of his testimony dominated headlines as users rallied behind the app while Republicans and Democrats called for either a national ban or a forced sale to an American company from its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

We examined readership of TikTok-related U.S. coverage (roughly 8,000 articles) over the last 5 months to see how much people are reading about TikTok’s great privacy debate in relation to other TikTok news and what comms teams can learn from it all.

The voice of the consumer rises

I think this is more of a change in narrative around privacy and data than anything. Data policies have historically been driven by regulators and politicians more than consumers calling for it, and this is actually one of the first times the voice of consumers is being heard.

Looking at coverage volume by topic over the last 5 months, we see a clear spike over the last week, roughly double the weekly coverage compared to most weeks leading up to the hearing.

The steady coverage around data security, a potential ban, and corresponding legislation saw a noticeable increase leading up to the hearing, but is the spike in coverage volume a clear indication of a crisis? Let’s look at readership.

Viral moments attract more readers than Congressional hearings

Are people actually reading about TikTok’s data privacy debate? Yes and no. Even with high volumes of coverage around security concerns, legislation, and a potential ban in the U.S., what really drives overall readership for the brand was viral moments on the platform, influencer news, and some product updates. 

In fact, the largest spike in readership for TikTok over the last 5 months was news surrounding a TikToker facing several charges after posting a video of her hitting a golf ball into the Grand Canyon and her club flying in after it. More people read about that than last week’s CEO testimony.

The voice of the loyal TikToker also rises

While most media coverage described Chew’s testimony as rocky and concerning, we’re also seeing readership around TikTokers rallying behind the brand. All the videos I personally saw from TikTok about the hearing made the CEO look amazing and the politicians in a much less flattering light.

Outside of TikTok’s echo chamber, most of the top 10 headlines revolved around live updates from the hearing or the CEO’s backstory. Still, headlines like “The TikTok Hearing Revealed That Congress Is the Problem” break through the noise.

Is the voice of the TikToker going to match that of the privacy-conscious consumer? Who will win? We’ll keep watching (and reading).

To learn more about readership or see more Memo Insights, visit

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