May 2, 2024 - News

Potential TikTok ban frustrates Cleveland influencers

Animated illustration of the TikTok logo glitching and turning into a no symbol.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

On Aug. 22, 2022, TikTok changed Tenisha Godfrey's life.

Why it matters: That's when the Cleveland resident visited East 81st Deli and posted her viral "It's a chicken salad…" video, generating millions of views, spawning a merchandise line and earning her a partnership with Weight Watchers.

Yes, but: Stories like Godfrey's could become few and far between.

  • President Biden recently signed a bill requiring TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to either sell the video-driven social media app or face a nationwide ban.
  • ByteDance has nine months to arrange a sale, plus a possible 90-day extension.

State of play: TikTok has about 170 million users in the U.S., the most of any country.

  • However, opponents argue the app puts customers' data at risk. Chinese law requires companies to share information with the government.

Zoom in: To users like Godfrey, who have benefitted from TikTok's reach, the rewards outweigh the risks.

  • "The fact they are trying to ban TikTok is outrageous," Godfrey tells Axios. "TikTok is so informative. [People] can live and pay our bills through TikTok."

Rebecca Maxwell agrees. Her Cleveland-based repurposed-clothing company Two One Thrift went viral via TikTok in 2022.

  • "TikTok has connected me with people all over the country and helped my business reach customers that I otherwise do not have access to," she says.
  • "As an influencer, I will be forced to rely on Instagram to connect with my community, which has less reach than TikTok has."

What they're saying: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, last week said TikTok users don't fully understand what threats the app poses.

  • "At the end of the day, they've not seen what Congress has seen," Warner said. "They've not been in the classified briefings that Congress has held, which have delved more deeply into some of the threats posed by foreign control of TikTok."

The other side: TikTok has maintained that it operates independently and "is not an agent of China or any other country."

  • The company says it protects U.S. data through a partnership with Texas-based IT firm Oracle.

What's next: ByteDance said it has no plans to sell TikTok and will legally challenge the bill on grounds it violates users' First Amendment rights.

  • Companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle are among rumored potential buyers for the app, which could be worth $100 billion.

Go deeper: TikTok ban could upend global app economy

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