Last week, I watched a summary of the coverage of the recent TikTok hearings held by the United States Congress featuring TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew. Though my expectations were low, I felt a deep sense of disappointment and even disgust as I watched, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one.
This is not about political ideology; scrutiny of TikTok, at least at the government level, has become a bipartisan issue. But no matter what our political beliefs are, politicians are our elected leaders and we should be quick to hold them to a high standard.
As the session progressed, it became increasingly clear that America’s lawmakers were far more interested in political posturing and showboating than genuinely attempting to address the legitimate concerns surrounding the popular social media app.
For example, there were numerous instances of politicians making erroneous statements in their questions or opening statements, demonstrating their lack of understanding of TikTok. Most of these incorrect statements went unchallenged or uncorrected, and this blatant disregard for accuracy undermined both their own credibility and the legitimacy of the hearings. The result was a circus-like atmosphere full of political grandstanding.
Lawmakers also muddied the water by conflating two different topics: the security risks specific to TikTok—which appeared to be the reason the hearing was convened—and the broader issue of social media’s negative impact on children. Because there wasn’t a clear or cohesive agenda, the hearings were unfocused, and the urgency of the issue was diminished as a result.
Personally, I believe that social media can be detrimental and toxic for children. In particular, I’m disheartened by how it teaches kids to rely on extrinsic validation, rather than finding their own intrinsic motivations, and we’re only starting to see the negative impact of that phenomenon on mental health. There are also real issues of security, given how much personal information the TikTok app collects, and it’s wise to question whether that data is accessible to the Chinese government. But those are two separate topics that each warrant their own exploration—they shouldn’t be messily combined.
If members of congress wanted to tackle the dangers of social media for children, including how the underlying algorithms may foster addiction, they should have invited CEOs from other prominent social media platforms, such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and BeReal, to answer the same questions as well as subject matter experts in technology and psychology. Instead, the politicians chose to focus on a few sensational screenshots that could have come from any of these platforms.
Ultimately, the hearings were pointless. All they really accomplished was wasting taxpayer money to create viral clips that could be shared on social media (ironic) and cable news to boost the politicians’ own profiles.
I have often highlighted the importance of self-awareness, responsibility, and accountability in leadership. These concepts apply not only to individuals but also to organizations and governments.
Below are some broader leadership best practices, which could have made the TikTok hearings far more productive, and are valuable in any area of society:
- Don’t make it about yourself: Leadership isn’t about you—it’s about the people you serve. Our political leaders should have put aside their egos and desire for fundraising video snippets and engaged in a more constructive process with some objectivity. This same rule holds true outside of politics as well—leaders should not center themselves.
- Have a clear agenda: If you’re spending time and money to have a meeting, you must create a well-defined agenda beforehand that ensures participants are clear about the desired outcome and next steps. It was clear from the hearings that the politicians had no such plan, and the result was no better than a shouting match.
- Listen more than you speak: It was embarrassing to watch our country’s politicians ask loaded and often factually inaccurate questions, without actually letting Chew respond. Asking a question that you don’t let someone answer is grandstanding and self-aggrandizement, pure and simple. Based on the level of ignorance in both technology and business displayed in the hearings, many members of congress likely would have learned more by listening rather than speaking.
We should all demand and enforce a higher standard of leadership, one that prioritizes progress over grandstanding and ego-boosting; especially for leaders who we elect. That’s the only way to ensure we get actual solutions to the problems we want to solve.
Quote of The Week
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”