TikTok Creators Fear Economic Blow of US Ban

In a digital age where social media platforms have become vital avenues for creativity, entrepreneurship, and livelihoods, the looming threat of a TikTok ban in the United States has sent shockwaves through the community of content creators and small businesses reliant on the popular app.

For individuals like Ayman Chaudhary, whose TikTok presence revolves around sharing her passion for literature, the prospect of losing access to the platform is not just a matter of inconvenience but a threat to her livelihood.

Chaudhary, a 23-year-old resident of Chicago, has transformed her love for reading into a full-time job on TikTok, where she posts video snippets discussing books, particularly those banned in conservative parts of the country.

“It’s so essential to small businesses and creators; it’s my full-time job,” she lamented, expressing concern over the misplaced priorities of policymakers focused on banning the app instead of addressing pressing issues such as gun control, healthcare, and education.

The threat to TikTok stems from a new US law mandating ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to divest the platform within nine months or face a ban.

Lawmakers argue that TikTok poses national security risks due to its Chinese ownership, alleging potential exploitation by the Chinese government for espionage and propaganda purposes.

However, entrepreneurs like Bilal Rehman of Texas argue that policymakers fail to grasp the profound impact of a TikTok ban on small businesses and creators.

Rehman, whose TikTok account @bilalrehmanstudio boasts half a million followers and promotes his interior design projects, emphasizes the platform’s role in democratizing commerce for small businesses.

A study by Oxford Economics, supported by TikTok, underscores the platform’s economic significance, revealing its pivotal role in fueling growth for over seven million US businesses, generating billions of dollars in revenue, and supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.

For Chaudhary, TikTok provided not only a creative outlet but also a source of income as her audience grew, attracting sponsorships and advertising opportunities.

By spotlighting banned books, she played a vital role in promoting literature and challenging censorship, demonstrating the platform’s potential for social impact and empowerment.

The unique appeal of TikTok lies in its algorithm-driven discoverability and its engaging, user-generated content.

Jasmine Enberg, an analyst at eMarketer, emphasizes TikTok’s ability to amplify niche businesses and quirky products, democratizing the commerce landscape and offering unprecedented opportunities for exposure and growth.

Despite the potential ban looming overhead, TikTok enthusiasts remain steadfast in their admiration for the platform’s distinctive vibe and authentic community.

Damian Rollison, director of market insights at SOCi, highlights TikTok’s role as a trusted source of information and entertainment, particularly among younger users who value its raw authenticity and humor.

As businesses brace for the possibility of a TikTok ban, Rollison advises them to develop contingency plans and leverage the enduring demand for short-form video content.

At the heart of the matter lies apprehensions regarding TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese tech giant, and the implications this holds for data privacy and security. The fear of foreign interference and espionage looms large, with policymakers raising alarms about the potential exploitation of user data for nefarious purposes, including surveillance and propaganda.

The specter of communist and state tactics casts a long shadow over the debate surrounding TikTok’s future in the US. Critics argue that the Chinese government’s extensive control over its tech companies poses a fundamental threat to democratic values and individual freedoms.

The prospect of a social media app with ties to a foreign government raises red flags, as it introduces the possibility of censorship, manipulation, and coercion on a massive scale. The fear that TikTok could serve as a Trojan horse for Chinese influence, undermining democratic institutions and sowing discord, underscores the gravity of the situation.

Implications Beyond TikTok: The Potential Domino Effect on Chinese-Owned Apps

As the debate surrounding the potential ban of TikTok in the United States intensifies, experts warn that the repercussions may extend far beyond the popular video-sharing platform.

With TikTok serving as the latest battleground in the ongoing US-China tech rivalry, other Chinese-owned apps operating in the US market could find themselves in the crosshairs of regulatory scrutiny.

According to Alex Capri, a research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation and a lecturer at the National University of Singapore Business School, the looming threat of a TikTok ban underscores the need for a more robust regulatory framework to address the broader existential issues posed by big-tech companies.

Capri’s insights shed light on the broader implications of the TikTok saga, highlighting the potential for increased regulatory scrutiny targeting Chinese-owned apps operating in the US.

Several Chinese-developed applications have gained popularity among US consumers, further fueling concerns about data privacy, national security, and geopolitical competition.

Budget retailers such as Temu and Shein, along with the short-form video editing app Capcut, owned by ByteDance, are among the notable examples of Chinese-owned apps with a significant presence in the US market. T

he inclusion of Capcut, also owned by ByteDance, underscores the interconnectedness of the tech landscape and the potential for regulatory actions to impact multiple platforms under the same ownership umbrella.

Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, emphasizes the broader geopolitical implications of the regulatory crackdown on Chinese-owned apps.

Singleton characterizes the legislative measures as a pivotal moment in the ongoing contest for control over emerging public opinion spaces, deepening the geopolitical rivalry between China and the US. The remarks underscore the broader strategic dimensions of the TikTok saga, which transcend mere commercial competition and delve into the realms of national security and global influence.

The discourse surrounding the potential ban of TikTok has reverberated beyond official channels, sparking discussions and debates on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo.

Hashtags related to TikTok’s potential ban in the US have garnered significant traction, generating millions of views and fostering extensive discussions among users.

Some Weibo users express frustration over the politicization of business operations, questioning the rationale behind elevating commercial disputes to the level of national security concerns.

Others perceive the regulatory actions as manifestations of US nationalism, highlighting the complexities of the US-China tech rivalry and its impact on bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, calls for retaliatory measures against US companies operating in China have surfaced among online commentators, reflecting the growing tensions and tit-for-tat dynamics characterizing US-China relations.

However, some users caution against such actions, citing China’s longstanding restrictions on foreign news media and tech platforms as evidence of its regulatory assertiveness. The exchange underscores the asymmetries and contradictions inherent in the US-China commercial relationship, highlighting the challenges of navigating the complex terrain of global tech competition and regulatory oversight.

While the outcome of the regulatory scrutiny remains uncertain, one thing is clear: TikTok’s cultural impact and economic significance cannot be overstated, and its potential loss would reverberate far beyond the confines of the digital realm.

Jessica Bayley

Jessica Bayley is an international author and journalist. She covers global affairs, hard news, lifestyle, politics, technology and is also the author of "The Ladies of Belgium."