TikTok creators are urging users to help #KeepTikTok

TikTok creators are urging users to help #KeepTikTok

Thousands of TikTok users, many who say they’ve built entire livelihoods and communities on the app, are responding to the company’s plea to #KeepTikTok by urging against its potential ban.

The platform of more than 1 billion monthly active users is facing a bill that would force ByteDance, its China-based parent company, to divest TikTok or risk it being banned from U.S. app stores.

This galvanized a resurgence of videos under the hashtag #KeepTikTok, which initially gained traction a year ago — after TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress to field a blistering line of questions about whether the app posed a national security risk. Now, TikTok is calling out for help by promoting the campaign to its vast network of creators.

“Act now to protect your freedom to create,” the company wrote in a social media statement Saturday. “Share a video expressing what TikTok means to you or how it has positively impacted your life, and use the #KeepTikTok hashtag. You can also encourage your audience to tell Congress to vote NO on the TikTok ban bill.”

JT Laybourne, a longtime TikTok creator who has amassed 1.7 million followers on the app, is among those who put out an emotional call to action sharing their frustration at the possibility of losing the digital space in which they’ve built full-time income streams and found community.

“The app that I rely on to feed my wife and three children,” Laybourne said of the platform. “The app that I rely on to provide for my family. The app that I rely on to keep my business alive.”

He added that he takes issue not with national security concerns, but with the lawmakers behind the bill who have made comments disparaging the platform and its users. “You want me to have any kind of confidence in what you’re doing when you can’t even acknowledge what this app really is, what it’s about, what it’s done?”

Called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, the bipartisan legislation unanimously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is expected for a floor vote in the House of Representatives next week. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it passes the House and Senate.

If enacted, it would empower the president to use federal intelligence agencies to identify certain social media apps as national security threats if they are deemed to be under the control of foreign adversaries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Such apps would then be banned from online app stores and web-hosting services unless they severed ties with entities under control of the foreign adversary within 180 days of the designation.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for further comment, but had confirmed earlier this week that it sent push notifications to some users urging them to call their representatives and tell them to vote against the bill.

Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., a co-author of the bill, told NBC News this week that this characterization of the legislation as a TikTok ban is “an outright lie.”

“As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive,” said Gallagher, who chairs the select committee on the Chinese Communist Party. “People can continue to do all the dumb dance videos they want on the platform or communicate with their friends and all that stuff.”

But many online who are pushing back against lawmakers’ concerns say their assumptions about TikTok prove they have little to no understanding of how users have shaped the platform over the past half decade.

“TikTok is so much more than just an app you can post your silly little dancing videos on,” one creator and small business owner said in a video, adding that the platform has connected real people from around the world. “It’s been a place that people who really need a voice can find it, and TBH, I think it’s really scary that there are people out there that think we should not have this connection.”

Many self-owned businesses and artists have built their dream careers through the audiences they’ve built on the platform, creators say. For some of these users, TikTok has become their primary means of financial stability.

“It’s taken me six years to get to this point. Literally not even a month ago, I quit my job to do TikTok, social media, full time. And now this,” another creator shared in a tearful video. “It’s just like one day, my dreams are coming true, and then the next day it’s getting ripped away from me.”

Laybourne told NBC News nearly 95% of his income comes from his apparel business, which maintains its fanbase almost exclusively through TikTok. He and his wife, who is also a creator and co-owner, have found the platform to be the most effective way of promoting new designs and apparel drops.

Aside from his financial reliance on the app, Laybourne said he has watched it change people’s lives: users rallying to raise money for someone in need, or simply rushing to offer emotional encouragement to someone feeling vulnerable.

His own community on the app raised more than $1 million for the American Heart Association in 2020, inspired by the support he received from them when he underwent open-heart surgery earlier that year.

“That’s why hearing our elected representatives mock TikTok, mock what it does and what it is and what it stands for and its creators, it’s just really disheartening,” Laybourne said. “It doesn’t make me feel like this is anything other than just a vendetta, which is frustrating for the people that truly have found purpose and a voice on TikTok.”

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