TikTok hired former Obama and Disney advisers to coach its CEO before his congressional hearing, per WSJ.
Shou Zi Chew has seen his follower count on TikTok rise from 18,700 to 3 million in 8 days.
The company's PR strategy has been praised by experts for Chew's informal manner.
TikTok hired former advisers to Barack Obama and Disney to coach its CEO, Shou Zi Chew, for over a month before his viral Congress hearing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The trio, which reportedly included David Plouffe and Jim Messina – who worked on Obama's presidential campaigns – and Disney's former communications chief, Zenia Mucha, was brought in to help advise the company in its fight against the Biden administration's efforts to ban TikTok.
Chew was largely unknown before the hearing last Thursday, with just under 19,000 followers on the app, per Reuters. Eight days later, that number sits at around 3 million – an increase of nearly 16,000%.
While some analysts were critical of his testimony – one described it as a "disaster moment," for TikTok – many of the app's users appeared to side with Chew as he gained millions of new followers. Several commenters praised his response to Rep. Richard Hudson, who asked "does TikTok access the home Wi-Fi network?" – a question that drew mockery from the app's users for its apparent ignorance.
"It seems clear that much of America did not experience the hearing the same way many political insiders and reporters did. Shou came prepared to answer questions about national security, data privacy, and the safety of teens who use our service, but instead was met with interruptions and yes/no questions as he tried to set the record straight," a spokesperson for TikTok told Insider.
Two days before the hearing, Chew posted an informal introduction on the app – he was dressed in a hoodie and jeans – which has since amassed 4.7 million likes.
Crystal Abidin, a professor of internet studies at Curtin University and the founder of TikTok Cultures Research Network, previously told Insider this was "quite a clever PR strategy." And one that may have been driven by the veteran strategists TikTok has brought on board.
Because TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, lawmakers around the world have raised concerns that user data could be accessed by China's government or intelligence services.
That's resulted in the app being banned on government devices not only in the US, but also in the UK, Canada, and European Union. The US has threatened to stop all citizens from using the app if it doesn't force Chinese shareholders to divest, the WSJ earlier reported.
TikTok has launched "Project Texas" in the US and "Project Clover" in Europe to try to convince politicians that user data is safe – spending billions on new data centers to prevent it from being subject to Chinese laws. A spokesperson for the app previously told Insider it believed the bans "have been based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics."
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