Every TikTok creator’s worst nightmare is about to (maybe) come true. This week, the U.S. government’s years-long bid to ban TikTok from the country has come to a head, with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying before Congress on Thursday. Today, American lawmakers are closer than ever to banning the app for good. So, what does this mean for TikTok creators who have made their living through the platform?
Since launching in 2018, TikTok has become the most popular social media platform in America — and has changed the lives of thousands of TikTok creators who have leveraged the platform to earn a living. It’s no surprise that creators are stressed about this possible ban. For these users, losing TikTok would mean more than just losing an app, it would mean losing a valuable source of income.
The Biden administration is inching closer than ever before to banning TikTok in the U.S. Now more than ever, content creators would be wise to start planning for the potential of a future without TikTok.
If you’re a content creator wondering how to prepare for a potential ban, or are simply wondering why the U.S. wants to ban TikTok at all, read on. Here, we’re breaking down the reasons behind the TikTok ban creators are anxious about, and the ways creators can begin diversifying in preparation for the potential ban.
Why does the U.S. want to ban TikTok?
You might be wondering why the U.S. wants to ban TikTok in the first place. Since launching in the U.S. in 2018, the app has become a part of the daily lives of more than 150 million Americans – that’s almost half of the country’s population. In the last five years, TikTok has completely reshaped U.S. culture, changing the ways Americans consume music, create comedy, and even organize protests. For many, a life without TikTok seems almost unimaginable. So why does the government want to ban it?
The long and the short of it is that the U.S. government is worried that TikTok, which is currently owned by Chinese company ByteDance, may pose a threat to national security. More specifically, the U.S. government is concerned that TikTok and ByteDance may give the Chinese government access to sensitive user data, including location information. In their case against TikTok, U.S. lawmakers have pointed towards laws that allow the Chinese government to demand data from Chinese companies for use in intelligence operations.
Of course, these security concerns are nothing new. Back in 2020, the Trump administration was the first to express them and to call for a potential ban on TikTok. Rather than banning the app, Trump accepted a deal that saw U.S. companies Oracle and Walmart take stakes in the platform. However, this deal didn’t actually solve the issue at the root of Trump’s ban, meaning ByteDance maintained its ownership of the app.
While Trump’s original attempt to ban TikTok never came to fruition, it did plant the seeds of doubt in U.S. lawmakers’ minds and, ultimately, marked the beginning of today’s ongoing campaign to permanently ban the app in the U.S.
What is the Biden administration doing to ban TikTok?
Today, the Biden administration’s bid to ban the app is picking up steam. In December, Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” essentially banning the use of TikTok on all government-owned devices at the federal level. State governments have followed suit, with 14 states, including New Jersey and Ohio, banning TikTok on state-owned devices. A number of other Western countries have also shown support for Biden’s ban, with Canada banning the app on all government devices in February.
Now, the Biden administration is pushing to potentially ban TikTok nationwide. Earlier in March, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance a bill that would give Biden the authority to ban the app. Weeks later, TikTok revealed that the White House gave ByteDance an ultimatum: sell TikTok or face a potential ban.
This push arrives after years of talks between TikTok and the U.S. government addressing ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government and its handling of American users’ data. Throughout these investigations, TikTok has denied allegations that it may be working with the Chinese government, and has also attempted to distance itself from ByteDance.
Is a TikTok ban actually going to happen?
The latest development in Biden’s ongoing bid to ban the app happened this Thursday, when TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew was called upon to testify before U.S. Congress. During the roughly five hour-long hearing, U.S. lawmakers lambasted the TikTok CEO about the platform’s ties to China and ByteDance, some asking if TikTok is spying on American citizens on behalf of the Chinese government. Throughout the hearing, Chew emphasized that TikTok is a private company that is not influenced by the Chinese government.
Chew’s claims of TikTok’s independence, however, were undermined by the Chinese commerce ministry’s opposition to a sale of TikTok just hours before the trial began. This public rebuke of the Biden administration’s ultimatum have forced U.S. lawmakers to choose one of two paths: ban the app, which could run into court challenges, or revisit negotiations for a technical fix to data privacy concerns.
To avoid a ban, TikTok has proposed ways to protect American users by sequestering their data, among other fixes. U.S. legislators, however, have yet to reach an agreement on these security proposals.
“The future of TikTok in the U.S. is definitely dimmer and more uncertain today than it was yesterday,” Lindsay Gorman, head of technology and geopolitics at the German Marshall Fund and a former tech adviser for the Biden administration, told the New York Times.
Investigations into the U.S. government’s security concerns remain ongoing, and, as of right now, it’s uncertain whether this potential ban will ever come to fruition. The threat of a ban, however, still looms on the horizon. Naturally, many TikTok creators have questions about what would happen if this worst-case scenario did become a reality.
What would a potential TikTok ban mean for creators?
A full-out ban on TikTok would have massive repercussions for thousands of content creators who earn their living on the app. However, they stand to lose more than just their income.
Losing the audience they’ve built on the platform
As mentioned, TikTok is the most popular app in America, boasting a base of over 1 billion global users and much, much higher engagement rates than its competitors, like Instagram and Facebook. These are the two main reasons why so many TikTok creators have found massive success monetizing their audiences and, sometimes, even earning a full-time income based on TikTok alone.
Audience and engagement are key when it comes to making money on TikTok. A potential TikTok ban means creators would lose the audiences and the valuable engagement they’ve spent days — and in some cases, years — growing. These two metrics are especially crucial when it comes to negotiating brand partnerships, one of the most popular sources of income for TikTok creators.
Amassing a large following and nurturing strong engagement rates doesn’t happen overnight. This means that some TikTok creators would find themselves, essentially, back to square one, having to build a new audience entirely from scratch. Ouch!
Losing a source of income
This one’s a biggie. If Biden’s ban comes to fruition, TikTok creators stand to lose a significant source of income.
As of 2023, TikTok has the highest engagement rates of any social media platform out there. We’re talking a whopping 5.69% per post, compared to Instagram’s 0.47%.
Digital creators’ streams of income depend on audience and engagement. For example, brands looking to make deals with influencers are looking for large follower counts and high engagement rates, and influencers with these two valuable metrics are able to command larger payouts per brand deal or sponsored post. Because its userbase is so engaged, TikTok has proven to be the easiest, quickest, and most reliable avenue for online creators to successfully monetize their audiences, flipping followers, views, and likes into cold hard cash.
All in all, TikTok is a powerful tool and a crucial source of income for a lot of creators. And losing it would leave many of them at a loss as to where to go and what to do next.
More difficult for aspiring creators to achieve quick success
Over the years, TikTok has turned many of its users into overnight successes. This is because of the emphasis the platform places on discovery. Rather than showing TikTok users videos from creators they already follow, the platform’s powerful algorithm shows users a continuous stream of new content via the For You page.
TikTok is also the place where some of the internet’s most popular trends originate. The platform’s search function and hashtag features can prove powerful tools for creators of any size looking to expand their reach and grow their audience.
Because of these factors, TikTok is one of the best places for new creators to really spread their wings, get discovered, and take off.
How creators can prepare for a potential TikTok ban
By now, we’ve outlined why many creators can’t seem to live without TikTok. Yes, the Biden administration’s potential TikTok ban would be devastating for many users. However, there’s still plenty of opportunity out there for TikTokers to continue earning an income online. And now’s the time to grab it.
If you’re a creator, here are a few things you can do to prepare for a potential TikTok ban:
Diversify your online presence
If you want to prepare for a potential TikTok ban, you need to create a safety net for yourself. This means not putting all your eggs (your sources of income) in one basket (your TikTok account).
While TikTok remains the most powerful social media app in terms of audience and engagement, there are similar social media platforms out there where you can build and, ultimately, monetize an audience.
TikTok creators who are looking to diversify their online presence might want to look into YouTube and Instagram’s short-form video features, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels. You can even get started right now!
After signing up for accounts on these other platforms, you can begin by uploading your video content across apps, on TikTok in addition to YouTube (via Shorts) and Instagram (via Reels). Once you’ve started raking in some followers and likes on these other platforms, you can grow your audience and engagement by posting videos exclusive to each of your channels, so your followers will have no choice but to follow you across apps in order to keep up. Smart, right?
Diversify your income streams
Besides diversifying their online presence, TikTok creators should look into additional and alternative income streams, just in case this ban ends up happening after all.
Brand deals remain one of the most popular ways for TikTok creators to earn an income. However, this particular stream of income relies heavily on your follower count and engagement rate data. These metrics are readily available on your TikTok profile — all a brand needs to do is scan your profile and crunch a few numbers before offering you a deal. A ban would effectively wipe both these metrics from the internet, meaning brands would have no data on which to make a deal, and you’d have no leverage to negotiate the income you think you deserve.
A way to get around this is to diversify your income streams, so you’re not 100% reliant on partnerships with third-party brands.
There are many other ways to monetize your audience directly and earn an income as a creator. These include selling physical merch and digital products (like online courses, website templates, and, yes, even knitting patterns.)
Want to diversify your income streams as a creator? Check out our helpful guide on 12 realistic ways to make money online.
Selling physical merch (like T-shirts, phone cases, and water bottles) requires a little more effort than selling digital products. This is because of overhead costs like inventory and logistics efforts, like shipping. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, however, your merch business can become a significant source of income. There are also several print-on-demand (POD) services available that can make managing your merch business much easier.
Selling digital products
Selling digital products is fast becoming one of the most popular — and sustainable — ways for creators to monetize their audiences online. A digital product is anything that your followers can purchase and download from the internet. This includes online courses, website templates, ebooks, and more.
Because of their one-and-done nature, digital products are a great way for creators to earn a passive income. Essentially, you only produce a digital product once. And once you’ve uploaded it to your online storefront, it can be downloaded an infinite number of times — no replenishment needed!
The overhead costs of selling digital products are much lower than those of physical merchandise. Purchasing or subscribing to the tools needed to launch a digital product business (online storefront and file-hosting services) is much more cost effective than, say, renting out a brick-and-mortar location and storing inventory in a warehouse.
Not sure what to sell? Get 3 tips for picking a product that’s right for you with our free digital product launch checklist.
Will the TikTok ban happen?
As talks and investigations continue, the verdict is still up in the air as to whether TikTok will be banned from the States for good. While we all wait on the edge of our seats to see what will happen to the beloved app, it’s a great time for content creators to begin preparing for the possibility of a life without TikTok. Sure, that means putting in a little more time and effort now, but who knows? You may reap the benefits tenfold, whether TikTok is banned or not.