Callie Goodwin of Columbia, South Carolina, posted her first video on the app in July 2020, the same month that former President Donald Trump said he would ban TikTok in the United States, to promote the small business she had started in her garage during the pandemic.
Goodwin decided to start Sparks of Joy Co., a pre-stamped greeting card company, after a neighbor left her brownies and a handwritten note while she was in quarantine. A few months later, a TikTok influencer with about two million followers shared one of Goodwin’s cards on her account, and Goodwin saw her business flourish.
According to Goodwin, who is now 28 years old, more than 90 percent of her orders come from people who find her business through TikTok. According to Goodwin, who spoke with CNN, “I would see business plummet if it were to get banned.” The majority of my sales would be lost.
The idea of a complete TikTok ban seemed to recede for the majority of the past two years. TikTok continued to gain popularity even after the Trump administration ended. According to data provided by the analytics company Sensor Tower, it was the most downloaded app in the United States the previous year and will continue to be so in 2022. As a result, TikTok, which stated that it would have 100 million US users by 2020, became even more integral to American culture and to the livelihoods of influencers and business owners like Goodwin.
However, TikTok’s future in the United States appears suddenly to be more uncertain than it has been since July 2020. Recently, a growing number of Republican governors have announced restrictions on TikTok for state employees using government devices, including on Thursday from multiple states. Apple and Google have been pressured by state attorneys general and a Republican commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission to take tougher measures with the app. Additionally, a bill that once again aims to prevent TikTok from operating in the United States due to the parent company’s base in China was introduced earlier this week by a trio of US lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio, the most powerful Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
At the same time, Washington has criticized TikTok for its parent company’s ties to China. A Buzzfeed News report in the beginning of this year claimed that some US user data had been accessed repeatedly from China, citing an employee who allegedly stated, “Everything is seen in China.” TikTok, on the other hand, has confirmed that some employees in China have access to US user data.
TikTok has been negotiating for years with the US government and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for a possible deal that will allow the app to continue operating in the United States while also addressing lingering concerns about national security. There have been recent reports of those negotiations being held up.
Some experts on national security believe that the widespread popularity of TikTok will only make it more difficult to completely ban the service. Even critics of TikTok have debated whether or not a ban is appropriate. This week, the bill’s author, Sen. Josh Hawley, stated that he would be “fine” if the US government and TikTok reached an agreement to protect US users’ data. However, “I think we’re going to have to look at more stringent measures” if they do not comply, Hawley stated.
Some app users who have made a living and found a sense of community on the app say they can’t imagine an America without it as lawmakers have renewed their calls for tougher action against the app.
TikTok now influences how people eat (one grocery store saw a 200 percent increase in sales of feta cheese after a baked pasta dish went viral); a plethora of beauty and fashion trends, including “glazed donut nails” and “skin cycling,” as well as new and old music, such as the 1980s song “Break My Stride,” to the top of streaming charts. Before the midterm elections, a significant number of politicians in the United States used the app to campaign. Additionally, legacy news organizations, such as the 176-year-old Associated Press, have recently joined TikTok in an effort to expand their reach.
Kahlil Greene, 22, of New Haven, Connecticut, stated to CNN, “So many people, myself included, are always on TikTok.” We get our entertainment, our news, our musical preferences, and our social inside jokes with friends from memes that started on TikTok from there.
Greene, who is referred to as the “Gen Z historian” on various social media platforms, has documented a variety of social and cultural issues and amassed more than 580,000 followers on TikTok. The Biden administration even became aware of Greene’s TikTok following. Greene was one of only a few TikTokers invited to a White House press briefing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine recently.
He stated, “TikTok is no longer just something you can rip away easily because so much of our culture and lives are driven by it now.”
“Too big to fail”
While simultaneously working to expand its presence in the nation, TikTok has attempted to allay concerns regarding its impact on Americans’ data.
Bytedance, a Beijing-based company, owns the company, which has pledged to move its US user data to Oracle’s cloud platform and to isolate US user data from other parts of the business. Last week, TikTok announced that it would reorganize its US-focused content moderation, policy, and legal teams into a separate group within the company, led by officials based in the US and separated from other teams that focus on the rest of the world organizationally.
A TikTok spokesperson stated in response to the bill’s call for a ban: It is troubling that some members of Congress have chosen to p instead of encouraging the Administration to complete its national security review of TikTok.
The statement went on to say, “We will continue to brief members of Congress on the plans that have been developed under the oversight of our country’s top national security agencies—plans that we are well underway in implementing—to further secure our platform in the United States.” These plans are intended to further safeguard our platform in the United States.
Additionally, the company emphasizes its widespread popularity. The spokesperson stated, “Millions of Americans use TikTok to learn, grow their businesses, and connect with creative content that makes them happy.”
The business is taking steps right now to keep expanding its reach. TikTok is still hiring American engineers despite major tech giants like Meta and Twitter cutting staff. A flurry of recent job postings suggests that TikTok is also attempting to take on a portion of Amazon’s e-commerce empire by expanding its own warehousing network in the United States.
According to Rick Sofield, a partner at Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. who focuses on national security reviews, export controls, and economic sanctions, the difficulty for the federal government is that “it’s almost like TikTok is too big to fail.” ByteDance owning TikTok poses a threat to national security, which is why we’ve been stuck because it’s too big to fail and they’re trying to figure out a soft landing.
He continued, “There are a lot of things I think would have to happen first, before there is a ban.”
A livelihood and a lifeline
TikTok has not only been “essential” for Adrianna Wise, 30, building her bakery in Columbus, Ohio, but it has also been essential for her ability to reach young Black and brown people in her community and share business advice.
Co-founder of Coco’s Confectionary Kitchen Wise told CNN, “I see the impact that I’m having when I go out into the community and people are like, “Oh my gosh, I follow you TikTok.” ” A few weeks ago, a young girl told me, “It was just so cool because you have hair like me, and you are on TikTok and you have so many views!”
She stated that “a lot of them are learning the skills and tools they need to be able to be able to create and cultivate their own businesses on platforms like TikTok, if not exclusively on TikTok.”
In a similar vein, Sparks of Joy Co. founder Goodwin asserts that a ban on TikTok would have devastating effects not only on her business but also on her sense of community. Through TikTok, she candidly documents her mental health journey and has established a support network. She stated, “I met my best friend in the world right now on TikTok.” At this point, we’re almost like family.
TikTok is much more than just a platform for lip-syncing and dancing videos. It really has so many different niches, and in any of them, you can find community,” Goodwin told CNN. Therefore, if it were to disappear, it would be a significant loss.
Even though he acknowledges that it could affect his income and sponsorship deals, Greene, the Gen Z historian, states that he is not particularly concerned about a potential ban on TikTok. This is despite the hullaballoo surrounding the topic. He asserts that those in government who are advocating for a ban do not appear to be aware of how important it is to the lives of people his generation.
He stated, “generally, the side of the argument that’s like super against TikTok, super alarmist about what it means, hasn’t done a great job communicating that message.” He was referring to the opposition to TikTok. “Data privacy concerns” are, in Greene’s opinion, “more of a buzzword than a tangible fear.”
He stated, “We grew up in a generation in which our data was always public and we always put our lives on social media.”
Hootie Hurley, a 23-year-old full-time creator from Los Angeles with more than 1.3 million TikTok followers, told CNN that the majority of his income now comes from TikTok. Hurley stated that, despite the fact that a ban would be “very scary” for him and his livelihood, he and other TikTok creators are more concerned with entertaining their audience than worrying about it. This is especially true after facing the initial threats of a ban in 2020.
He stated, “everybody would actually be very, very surprised if the government ever did ban it.”