Updated Mar 13, 2024 - Technology

"My livelihood at stake": TikTokers revolt against potential ban

Protestors in front of the Capitol hold signs that say #KeepTikTok and "TikTok changed my life for the better"

Protestors support TikTok at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on March 12 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

TikTokers are going offline to protest a bill advancing through Congress that could lead to the popular video app's demise.

Why it matters: After the platform's unusual call urging users to contact their representatives, creators have been speaking out about the app's financial and communal benefits and role as a major source of news.

  • Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and content creators gathered at a news conference Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol to protest the bipartisan legislation, which is designed to force China's ByteDance to divest from TikTok over longstanding alleged national security concerns.
  • Creators using the hashtag #KeepTikTok have been posting videos encouraging their followers to mobilize, often saying a ban (which is not exactly what's being proposed) would restrict free speech.
  • "This is my livelihood at stake," Emily Swift, a TikToker and owner of a Connecticut-based film development lab, told Axios. About 80% of her clientele comes from people who found her on the app, she said.
  • The political repercussions of threatening an app with more than one billion users — mostly young people — during an election year are not yet clear.

State of play: The potential downfall of TikTok has prompted some users to make their first calls to Congress, ever.

  • Anthony Clark, a politics-focused content creator in Palm Springs, Calif., told Axios: "If you're getting a flood of calls repetitively, all day, to the point where it's annoying you, you should take into consideration that it's an important issue to your constituents and to the American public."

Catch up quick: The flood of calls to congressional offices began March 6, one week before the House voted to pass the bill in a closely watched vote. President Biden has vowed to sign it, but the bill's fate in the Senate is unclear.

  • "Phones are completely bogged down hearing from students, young adults, adults, and business owners who are all concerned at the option of losing their access to the platform," a senior GOP aide told Axios' Juliegrace Brufke.
  • TikTok has launched an aggressive lobbying effort this week that also includes a visit by its CEO.

The big picture: The FBI has warned for years that TikTok could pose national security risks because of the Chinese government's relationship to the app.

By the numbers: 35% of Americans polled in January strongly opposed banning TikTok use in the U.S., while 31% were strongly in favor.

  • Among people between 18 and 29, 46% strongly opposed a ban, while 21% were strongly in favor.
  • Respondents' main concerns were the amount of time that children and teenagers spend on the app and the spread of misinformation on it.

Friction point: People flooding Congress with calls could be flirting with the opposite desired outcome.

  • A deluge of uninformed callers "only exposed the degree in which TikTok can manipulate and target a message," said House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), per Politico.

Reality check: It's unclear what changes could come to the app under different ownership — if that happens.

  • TikTok did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Between the lines: For many, losing TikTok would mean disconnecting from niche communities and a crucial source of information, Los Angeles-based house plant content creator Debbie Galo told Axios.

  • "My biggest concern is people's ability to stay connected to their subcultures," she said. "That's a big deal."

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional developments.

Go deeper