() — Congress and states are continuing efforts to ban TikTok, a policy decision that influencer Zachery Dereniowski wholeheartedly opposes.
Best known as MD Motivator online, he says the social media app changed his life and believes it’s changing other people’s lives for good, too.
“I was depressed in medical school, and that platform allowed me to connect at a time when the world needed connection. So it allowed me to get out of the depression that I was in,” Dereniowski said. “TikTok getting banned in the states would be extremely detrimental to what I try to do, my mission, spreading kindness and love.”
Dereniowski’s comments during an appearance Thursday on “CUOMO” came on the heels of a congressional hearing at which TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told House lawmakers the social media company isn’t an agent of China. He argued the bottom line is that American data is stored on American soil.
Lawmakers across the country have expressed major concern with TikTok’s data collection, arguing the company is using the social media to spy on Americans for the Chinese government. Chew rejected that characterization and said the company is working to be a good actor, protect privacy and safeguard young people.
Dereniowski is known for his videos that promote acts of kindness and paying it forward. He approaches people on the street asking them for assistance — such as a free meal or $10 in cash to help with an errand — and then returns the favor several times over when they help.
“A lot of the videos, we give individuals $500 or $1,000, and then through the views on TikTok, we raised $250,000 in the last six weeks for five different families,” Dereniowski said. “Without TikTok, these lives wouldn’t be changed, these moments wouldn’t be created. I know there’s a lot of other creators that use this as a livelihood … on top of the fact that it provides hope and creates a pivot in individuals’ lives.”
Lawmakers at Thursday’s congressional hearing also zeroed in on content that promotes violence or self-harm. Members of both parties noted the dangerous challenges that have made headlines, like the so-called Blackout Challenge or Benadryl Challenge. Members also focused on algorithmic feeds surfacing harmful content or content designed to increase anxiety.
Congress has previously raised that particular issue with executives of other social media apps including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, which Dereniowski believes are just as culpable.
“I think it’s the same. As a creator … you make a piece of content, you post it on TikTok, the same content that you’d post on Instagram, the same content that you’d post on YouTube,” Dereniowski said. “I use the exact same content. TikTok is one and the same to me as a creator.”
correspondent Allison Harris and writer Stephanie Whiteside contributed to this report.