TikTok content creators worry about their income security following the signing of a law by President Biden.

TikTok creators gather before a press conference to voice their opposition to the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” pending crackdown legislation on TikTok in the House of Representatives, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2024.

Craig Hudson | Reuters

Ophelia Nichols, known as “shoelover99” on TikTok, is among the scores of online creators and influencers whose livelihood has been suddenly thrown into potential chaos.

Nichols, who lives in Alabama, has over 12.5 million followers on TikTok, an app she uses for creating lifestyle content and delivering rants in her deep Southern accent. Her posts can attract millions of views, and she makes most of her money through promotional partnerships with brands like Home Chef.

But after this week’s actions in Washington, D.C., Nichols doesn’t know what happens next.

Small and mid-sized businesses that used TikTok supported 224,000 jobs, according to an Oxford Economics study paid for by TikTok. These businesses generated nearly $15 billion in revenue and contributed $24.2 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2023, the study said.

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, speaks to reporters outside the office of Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) at the Russell Senate Office Building on March 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives voted to ban TikTok in the United States unless the Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance sells the popular video app within the next six months.

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

TikTok creators and influencers, living far out of the realm of politics, have a very different concern.

Many users of the app have struggled to obtain similar audiences on other platforms. Creators say that each platform is different, with its own audience and interests, and TikTok’s algorithm makes it easier for their videos to get discovered by a larger audience.

TikTok offers various avenues for monetization, including its Creativity Program, designed to reward popular videos that are longer than a minute. Additionally, creators can generate revenue through brand partnerships, affiliate sales via TikTok Shop, and receiving virtual “gifts” from followers during livestreams.

Senator Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., told good’s “Last Call” on Tuesday that the legislation isn’t a ban, but just a requirement that TikTok separate itself from ByteDance.

“You can still keep the platform, you can still move forward,” Mullin said. “But the Chinese Communist Party is using the algorithm, which they developed, for ByteDance, for TikTok, and the servers that they use to be able to push out their propaganda.”

Competing platforms have tried to encourage users to post their short-form videos to their platforms. Last year, YouTube Shorts changed its monetization program, offering users 45% of ad revenue across multiple posts. However, users said the payouts weren’t as high as on long-form videos.

“The culture of each platform is different,” said Spehar. “The discoverability algorithm is different. The saturation is different. Trying to break into YouTube is really hard because it’s such a saturated market.”

It’s gotten harder elsewhere, too. Last year, Meta shut down its program to pay short-form video creators on Instagram and Facebook. Creators have complained that they don’t make anything while receiving hundreds of thousands of views on the app. However, Instagram head Adam Mosseri hinted that the program might come back in 2024.

Nichols joined a number of other TikTok creators in traveling to the Capitol to oppose a potential ban. She wanted to speak out against it and explain to lawmakers how she runs her business using the app. Nichols said TikTok didn’t ask her to join the protest.

“You’re taking away our First Amendment rights,” Nichols said. “People don’t understand. This is a community. It’s a family. Whatever it is that you enjoy or that makes you smile, you will find someone else on the app that loves that too.”

According to the good All America Survey from March, 47% of participants supported a ban or a sale, while just over 30% opposed a ban.

TikTok hosts over 585,000 posts, predominantly consisting of videos, under the hashtags #KeepTikTok and #SaveTikTok, where users vocally oppose the ban. Many testimonials underscore TikTok’s significant role in providing online entertainment, while others implore the preservation of the current platform, crucial for their livelihoods.

The effort stems from ByteDance’s $7 million marketing strategy to mobilize American opposition against the ban. Tactics ranged from heartfelt testimonial videos featuring TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to in-app banners advocating for users to call their senator, and even physical protests staged outside the Capitol.

Following Biden’s signing of the bill on Wednesday, TikTok called the measure unconstitutional and said it will challenge the law in court.

“We believe the facts and the law are clearly on our side, and we will ultimately prevail,” the company said in a post on X. “This ban would devastate seven million businesses and silence 170 million Americans.”

Lawmakers have long argued that TikTok is a national security threat to the U.S., on the grounds that the Chinese government could use TikTok data to spy on American users and spread disinformation and conspiracy theories.

V Spehar, host of “Under the Desk News,” a short-form news show with over 3 million followers on TikTok, expressed concern over the potential impact on creators’ income. Spehar highlighted the uniqueness of TikTok’s algorithm in aiding content discovery compared to other platforms like Youtube.

“People say, ‘If we shut down TikTok, they’ll go follow you on Meta,’ which is not true,” said Spehar. “And it’s not true for so many people. Otherwise, we would.”

Tony Youn, a plastic surgeon with 8.4 million TikTok followers, acknowledged the challenges of diversifying his platform presence to safeguard against potential disruptions like those posed by the TikTok legislation. Youn emphasized the importance of protecting the voices of smaller creators who might suffer from the ban.

“I have purposely diversified just because it’s something, as a business person, I know you have to do,” Youn said. “But not everybody has done that.”

Regarding income security and audience engagement, creators on TikTok face uncertainty as they navigate potential platform restrictions amidst geopolitical concerns surrounding data security and privacy.

As the battle over TikTok’s future continues, the voices of its content creators amplify concerns over livelihoods, creative expression, and the evolving landscape of digital content monetization.

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