Creators are frustrated but energized as TikTok ban gains momentum

TikTok creators and their followers want their concerns taken seriously — and plan to push back

The bill that could ban TikTok took one step closer to becoming a law on Wednesday. After being introduced just last week, the bill was fast-tracked through the House of Representatives and will now head to the Senate.

V Spehar, the TikTok creator behind UnderTheDeskNews, has been a staunch critic of efforts to ban TikTok; they even traveled to Capitol Hill on TikTok’s behalf last year when CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress.

“People are energized to fight this, and are smart, and don’t appreciate being belittled,” Spehar told TechCrunch. “It’s really sad to know that half of America is being told to shut up by our elected officials.”

If it becomes law, the bill would force ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to sell the app. But China has said in the past that it would oppose a sale (and can, per the government’s export rules, which changed in 2020). If ByteDance doesn’t sell TikTok, it would become illegal for app stores to distribute the app, which over 170 million Americans use.

TikTok itself has rallied its users to call their Congresspeople and express their opposition to the legislation. Some lawmakers’ offices reported that they were being overloaded with calls from angry TikTok users, a situation that was parodied by late night host Stephen Colbert. Spehar told TechCrunch that they have received dozens of messages from TikTok users who were frustrated with Colbert’s characterization of TikTok users as “grown-ass millennials who still describe themselves by their Hogwarts house.”

For anyone who relies on the platform as an income source, the new threat of a TikTok ban is no laughing matter. And the pace at which Congress is moving to limit TikTok’s reach is catching some creators off guard.

“This time around is just going so much faster within the legislative process,” Jules Terpak, a Gen Z tech commentator on TikTok, told TechCrunch. “Aside from TikTok sending out very serious notifications to a subset of users about what’s going on, the cultural timing just feels more prominent — likely because Biden outright said he’ll sign it into law and people have gotten so comfortable with TikTok in their daily life.”

Since the bill passed in the House, TikTokers have been rallying their followers to take the bill more seriously. Noah Glenn Carter, a creator with 8.7 million followers, posted a video urging his followers to call their senators. Another creator, @cancelthisclothingco, posted a seven-minute video to their 1.4 million followers with hashtags like #tiananmensquare and #uyghur to “speedrun everything bad about China that China doesn’t want anyone to know.”

“I have a huge following, I can just make a video that tests exactly what they’re trying to say we can’t see,” @cancelthisclothingco said. The video has gotten 21,000 likes in three hours.


The tik tok ban passed and has one more step before it’s official #foryou #tiktok #keeptiktok

♬ Stargazing (Slowed + Reverb) – Marcelo De Carvalho

TikTok’s CEO has emphasized that the company is not beholden to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and that users are free to post content critical of China without any interference. But lawmakers like Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) have repeatedly tried to push a narrative connecting TikTok to the CCP in Congress, pressing Chew on his birthplace, political party and citizenship (“I’m Singaporean,” Chew responded several times).

Though there is no evidence of the CCP spying on TikTok, there has been evidence of ByteDance accessing TikTok data without authorization. So, lawmakers worry that the Chinese government could use ByteDance to spy on Americans.

Sarah Philips, a content creator and digital rights organizer at Fight for the Future, argues that if data privacy is the real issue, then Congress should take action against data brokers, not TikTok.

“It’s xenophobic showboating,” said Philips. “All conversations about a TikTok ban are essentially that at its core, because those of us who understand data collection practices know that because of the lack of digital privacy legislation, our data is for sale from any manner of other tech companies.”

Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) raised this point on the House floor Wednesday, before the bill passed with a 352-65 vote.

“The problem with our design here, is it’s really well meaning, but it doesn’t get at the structural problem,” he said. “What makes them not take the data, sell it to a data broker, and it gets washed and still ends up in a bad actor’s hands?”

The U.S government has been trying to force ByteDance to sell TikTok since 2020, when former President Donald Trump first called for a ban unless TikTok found a new owner (now, Trump opposes a ban, because he says it would make Meta more powerful). But the flurry of support for the new bill and the speed with which it moved through the House mean that TikTok’s future is suddenly much less certain.

Philips has been frustrated by condescending attitudes toward TikTokers. She pointed to several posts on X, which have made fun of people on TikTok for using euphemisms like “seggs” and “unalive” to navigate around content filters.

“I think there’s a lot of people who, if I presented to them, ‘should the government have control over what technology you’re able to use?’, they would probably not agree with that,” Philips said. “But they are kind of joining this bandwagon against TikTok because they think the content is cringe.”

On platforms like X, the idea of banning TikTok has become a meme in itself. Many TikTokers similarly can’t understand why Congress would move so quickly and efficiently to craft new legislation to restrict TikTok, of all things.

“The most bipartisan thing that is happening in Congress right now is endlessly funding the military, and censoring an app that they use to connect with other people,” Philips told TechCrunch. “I mean, the president is on TikTok.

Philips thinks that lawmakers’ failure to take TikTok users’ concerns seriously could have major ramifications for the upcoming election cycle. “There are any number of things that Congress could be focusing on right now, and this seems to be largely political theatre,” Philips said. “I don’t know how that wouldn’t affect the election.”

Though Terpak has a following of more than 330,000 people on TikTok, she takes a more neutral approach to the app’s possible ban.

“A lot of people on TikTok are pushing that the government has other things to worry about, but I think that’s a faulty POV considering how powerful technology, especially social media’s role in our life is, and how that will only continue to become more true in the coming years,” Terpak said. “I think a lot of people battle with being able to appreciate but also critique a platform.”