TikTok influencers fear their careers will be destroyed and their work 'deleted forever' as a US ban gains steam

TikToker dancing in front of phone
There are 170 million Americans on TikTok, and they're stressed about a potential ban.David Espejo/Getty Images
  • TikTokers are stressed about a potential US ban and are criticizing the intentions behind it.

  • A new bill would make Chinese-owned ByteDance sell TikTok to a US company or face a nationwide ban.

  • TikTokers argue a ban would infringe on their freedom of speech and hurt the creator economy.

TikTokers are stressed out about the app potentially being banned in the US, saying it would be "devastating" to their careers since the businesses they've built would "shrivel and die."

A bill is hastily moving through Congress that states Chinese-owned ByteDance would either have to sell TikTok to a US company or it would be banned nationwide.

It was unanimously approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee last week with a vote of 50 to 0.

Those who want the app banned argue that TikTok may be forced into giving over user data to the Chinese government. They also fear TikTok could be suppressing or amplifying certain topics due to governmental pressure.

TikTok has repeatedly denied these allegations and made attempts to distance itself from ByteDance.

The US House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

TikTok and its users have fought back, with the platform urging people to call their representatives and make their views heard.

They have enthusiastically mobilized against the bill and called out what they say is the hypocrisy of the US government. They claim it focuses heavily on one app while leaving other tech companies, such as Meta and Google, alone.

"TikTok has cultivated a huge community of people who discuss politics and current affairs without it being altered by propaganda," Shira, a content creator who operates under the name shirashiraonthewall, told BI. "A lot of us just want to know the truth. The whole TikTok ban is clearly a tactic to control the narrative."

Without TikTok, Shira said she personally wouldn't know about "some of the injustices occurring across the world."

"It's a valuable tool in seeking solidarity," she said.

Shira also pointed to how a ban would harm her business, as she would no longer be able to make money from TikTok shop.

A ban would be "devastating" for her, she said, because years of her work would be "deleted forever."

"I know that I will just have to accept what happens and move on to making content on Instagram Reels or Shorts," she said. "But my growth and virality aren't guaranteed there as my content was uniquely made for TikTok."

She said her future as a result is pretty uncertain. She's worked with many large American corporations through the app, and more than half of her earnings come from brand deals with them.

A TikTok spokesperson told Business Insider the legislation has a "predetermined outcome," which is a total ban of TikTok in the US.

"The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression," they said. "This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country."

Ben Stanley turned to TikTok when he started making artwork. He said he hasn't been able to hold down a job due to his mental and physical health complications, so growing a following on TikTok has provided him a flexible way to earn an income.

It's TikTok's algorithm that has made him so successful, he told BI.

"Should Tiktok be banned, my business won't be able to sustain itself because I don't have the same kind of following anywhere else," he said.

"So I would essentially be unemployed again, which would be a massive strain on my health as well as my wife and son on the way."

A loss of TikTok would mean a loss of his business, he said, meaning his income would "shrivel and die."

Tahrea Sherman, a content creator who makes TikToks about pop culture, told BI she is worried that if TikTok is sold to a US company, then the government would suppress certain content.

This is a concern because TikTok is already hot on content moderation.

"I feel like it's doing what social media is supposed to do, which is connecting with other people and exploring new ideas," Sherman said. "They want to change what makes the app great, and I think that's very unfortunate."

Catalina Goanta, an associate professor of private law and technology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told BI the bill in Congress only targets social media, which is "particularly odd and incoherent" considering there are security concerns around many other businesses that operate in the US, including Temu.

But it also targets the digital creator economy, which is expected to reach half a trillion dollars by 2027, according to Goldman Sachs. An overwhelming amount of the world's most famous creators are US-based.

According to Statista, around 75 percent of the marketing spending worldwide on social media stars was on US influencers in 2023.

"Losing TikTok would be a terrible blow not only to the livelihood of creators of all sizes in the US but also to the creative digital industry as a whole," Goanta said. "It is an economically nonsensical decision to bring down a poorly understood modern, creative, digital industry."

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