Concerns over U.S. TikTok ban escalate among creators and users after House bill passes

Many concerned TikTok creators on Wednesday condemned the House passage of a potential TikTok ban in the U.S., calling it a threat to people’s livelihoods and freedom of speech.

“Before you go jump to conclusions and go ‘Boohoo a 25-year-old dancing with a shampoo bottle’s gotta get a real job,’ being an influencer is a fraction of what income is created on these apps,” TikTok creator Freddie Smith, an Orlando, Florida-based realtor with 530,000 followers, said in a video.

“There are so many important things happening on this app,” he said, after listing a wide array of people who use the app, ranging from service-based businesses to video editors. “And I’m waiting to hear Congress talk about how this would take away millions of jobs.”

Smith’s video was among dozens uploaded to the platform after the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act’’ passed in the House of Representatives. If the Senate passes the bill and President Joe Biden signs it into law, TikTok would have six months to divest from ByteDance and be acquired by a U.S. company.

But the bill wouldn’t immediately affect other apps owned by foreign entities, including other Chinese apps that purportedly pose risks to Americans. It also wouldn’t stop American social media companies from selling user data to foreign entities or third-party data brokers.

V. Spehar, known to their 3.1 million followers on TikTok as Under The Desk News, expressed concern that antitrust laws could prevent major American social media companies from buying TikTok, leaving an unrealistic timeline for the platform to find a buyer and transfer its data to them.

“If they can’t do it in that timeline, then they wouldn’t have access to the app anymore to update it,” Spehar said in a TikTok video. “So Congress is effectively banning the app by breaking it.”

Spehar, who has become known for delivering the news in a short, digestible way, was among the roughly 20 creators invited to the White House in September 2022 as part of the Biden administration’s celebration of the Inflation Reduction Act. They also attended a rally in March 2023 in Washington, D.C., where dozens of creators called on lawmakers to “keep TikTok.”

One year later, creators are still echoing their plea to keep the app alive. Several creators and small business owners have made videos using the #KeepTikTok hashtag to urge against a potential ban. Numerous creators have publicly expressed their fears about what would happen to their audiences.

Jonathan Chanti, president of Viral Nation Talent, said that most creators understand the importance of diversifying their content and ensuring they have a multiplatform presence. The threat of a ban could be a “wake-up call” for some.

“I would say to aspiring creators, 'Don’t be intimidated by any potential challenges that may come,'” Chanti said. “Instead, just continue to invest in your content on YouTube Shorts and on Meta, and with Instagram and on Snapchat. There’s fortunately multiple avenues to create amazing awareness with audiences.”

But some online echoed Smith, the Florida realtor, pointing out that creators aren’t the only ones who would be impacted by the legislation. The platform itself has previously stated it is “driving real economic growth and job creation in communities across the U.S.”

“We’re talking about actively hurting a section of the U.S. economy,” Lucas, a comedian with 131,000 followers, said in a TikTok video. “I’ve seen mom and pop shops go from chapter 11 to thriving because of the people and content that TikTok has platformed.”

Lucas was also among some TikTokers who worried that the bill could lead to first-person perspectives being censored. He said he’s “learned more about world and local news from first-hand perspectives of those being affected from the videos they produce on this app, just in the past year, than I have from every other form of media put together in the past year.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said in a TikTok video on Wednesday that he voted "no" on the ban, despite having some concerns about the app, because he believes it’s “un-American” to ban free speech.

“Banning free speech because we’re afraid of something is just the most un-American thing we could do,” he said in a video. “I do have issues with how TikTok is controlled, but at the same time it’s very weird for me as an American to ban other Americans from any platform that gives speech, whether I agree with the speech or not.”

Before the bill heads to the Senate, a handful of creators encouraged their followers to call lawmakers and ask them to vote against the bill.

Noah Glenn Carter, who has built a TikTok following of 8.7 million for his videos explaining online drama and internet news, said small businesses rely on the platform to reach customers.

"If this TikTok ban does go through, it's going to be very bad for the American people,” he said. “As there are over 170 million Americans that use TikTok and 7 million small businesses that use it to make a living,” Carter said, citing statistics that TikTok has touted in its response to the legislation.

He told his followers if they want "a small say in whether or not TikTok does get banned," they should call or email their senators.

Meanwhile, Chris Olsen, who rose to fame on the app with his personal videos in 2020, encouraged users to remain engaged with the issue, despite “alarmist” videos framing the bill as an immediate ban.

“There is time,” Olsen, who has 3.9 million followers on TikTok, said in a video. “...but it is still important to pay attention to the news and what’s happening, and call your representatives to try to stop this from happening.”

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