WASHINGTON — More than two dozen content creators — ranging from educators to small business owners — gathered at the nation’s capital this week to advocate for TikTok amid lawmakers’ calls to ban the platform.
The group of about 30 TikTokers — who have a collective following of over 60 million people — are expected to join Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., outside Congress for a rally on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their opposition to a potential ban.
NBC News confirmed last week that the Biden administration is considering a ban of TikTok in the U.S. if the app’s Chinese owners refuse to sell their stakes. Critics of the app argue TikTok is a national security threat given its ability to collect data on its users, with some noting much of the user base is teens and young adults. That is countered by security experts who argue the app is no more a security threat than the many other apps that collect data and point to the lack of any broad U.S. data privacy regulations.
Several creators who spoke to NBC News ahead of the rally said they felt motivated to spread awareness to lawmakers about how TikTok impacts their livelihoods and communities. Many said that TikTok flew them to D.C. to participate in the press conference.
I want to stop the misconception that it’s just an app. It’s so much more than that.
-Creator Duncan Joseph , on tikTok
“I want to stop the misconception that it’s just an app. It’s so much more than that,” said Duncan Joseph, who has more than 4.5 million followers on his account, @duncanyounot. “If it were to be removed, these communities can’t just go to another spot. This is the home … and you just can’t rip that social fabric away from so many people.”
Some creators pointed out that the administration itself has utilized the platform to help spread awareness to Gen Z users on various major policy initiatives. The administration, including Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, worked with top TikTok stars to encourage vaccination against Covid-19. More recently, the White House also briefed a handful of influencers about the United States’ strategic goals in Ukraine, The Washington Post reported last year.
V Spehar, known as @underthedesknews on TikTok, was among the roughly 20 creators invited to the White House in September 2022 as part of the Biden administration’s celebration of the Inflation Reduction Act. Spehar said the U.S. government changing its stance on TikTok has been frustrating for the creators, particularly those who were tapped by the administration to help disseminate information about various issues.
“I think the White House certainly recognizes the importance and the reach this platform has, or I wouldn’t have two letters sitting at home on my desk right now signed by Joe Biden saying how important my platform is and how proud he is of the work I do,” said Spehar, who has become known for delivering the news in a short, digestible way.
More of NBC News’ coverage on the potential TikTok ban:
Others, like Naomi Hearts, known as @naomiheartsxo on TikTok, said she wanted to let politicians know how the app has helped give a voice to marginalized groups.
“I feel like, as a trans woman, being on this platform, I’ve had opportunities I never would have had if I had not been for TikTok,” she said. “It’s very disheartening to see people try to take that away.”
Hearts initially planned to use her platform for entertainment, but said she soon realized how important it was for her followers to see a trans woman who is thriving on the platform.
“I do this because I want to be the representation I wish I saw growing up,” she said. “I feel like the app is … a place where people come to feel a sense of humanity and a sense of togetherness and so it really is disheartening to see [a possible ban] but I hope our stories help to change their [politicians’] minds a bit.”
Hearts said TikTok has also given her the ability to be a full-time content creator, making $50,000 in her first year on the platform and $100,000 in her second year through brand deals.
The creator rally in D.C. comes one day before TikTok CEO Shou Chew is scheduled to testify in Congress about the app. On Tuesday, Chew directly appealed to TikTok users himself, posting a video to the platform.
“Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok,” he said in the video. “Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
The Biden administration’s possible ban isn’t the first time the app has been threatened by a U.S. president. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump announced he would ban TikTok. That ban never came to fruition.
Content creator Aidan Kohn-Murphy, known to his almost 300,000 TikTok followers as @aidanpleasestoptalking, said a ban could have political ramifications for the Biden administration.
“When Trump threatened to ban TikTok, young people mobilized. It was one of the big factors of youth turnout in 2020,” Kohn-Murphy, who also runs the account for youth political group @GenZforChange, said. “I think young people are already disaffected with politics in a lot of ways, and I think this is going to build on that.”
Currently, TikTok is banned from federal devices and some states have followed suit. Several public universities in the U.S. have also banned the app from their devices and Wi-Fi. Some governors have also banned TikTok on state computer networks, while the Justice Department and the FBI are investigating TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, including allegations that company employees spied on journalists.
The platform has ramped up its public relations offensive in response to the blowback. As NBC News reported in January, senior executives at the popular video app and their lobbyists have been briefing members of Congress, academic researchers, think tank writers and others about a $1.5 billion effort that they call Project Texas, laying out details of how TikTok believes it can address the concerns of people who see it as a security threat, according to people who said they had been briefed and media reports about the lobbying.
Before the rally kicked off Wednesday, Spehar said they and several other TikTokers attempted to meet with members of Congress to make their plea directly to those who could ban the app.
TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said in an email statement that he believes Wednesday’s rally will give lawmakers debating a ban on the platform a chance to “hear firsthand from people whose lives would be directly affected by their decisions.”
“We look forward to welcoming our creators to our nation’s capital, helping them make their voices heard, and continuing to drive meaningful impact in their lives and for their communities,” Brown said.