‘Just not a viable option’: Recent federal TikTok legislation worries local influencers

Monday, May 6, 2024

By Alli Pardue and Reyna Drake

This article is also available as an audio story by Regan Rhymes and Stella Griffin. Listen to it here.

150 million Americans are on TikTok.

While a significant number, the U.S. makes up a small portion of the app’s complete user base. TikTok currently has 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, with active users in 141 countries. 

Amid the app’s explosion in popularity since its inception in 2016, hundreds of thousands of users have found ways to make money on the app. These users are known as influencers — and their trade is content creation and advertising.

Influencer Marketing Hub predicts that influencer marketing will reach a $24 billion market size by the end of 2024. This is a significant increase from the mere $1.7 billion market size in 2016. 

But TikTok, a critical platform in the livelihood of many of these influencers, is under fire from the U.S. government with the recent passing of a bill that could ban the app in the U.S.

While it may take around a year to see if TikTok will stay or go, the potential loss of the app is a cause of worry for influencers nationwide who make sizable amounts of money on the platform.

Some of these influencers are based right here in the Triangle.


Natalia (Nati) Hauser, a senior at Duke University, is a lifestyle content creator on TikTok. She posts about anything from fashion, to college life, to her Latina heritage. She said her platform, @natisstyle, has been a “passion project” of hers since high school, and her TikTok account currently has 248.6 thousand followers.

According to Hauser, losing TikTok would mean she would need to completely transition to other platforms, like Instagram. She said such a transition would be a big blow to her platform, as her Instagram following is significantly smaller than TikTok at just under 20,000.

“It would not dim my light, but it would definitely be discouraging,” she said.

This significant drop in following would also be a big blow to Hauser financially, she said. 

Her online presence has become a steady source of income for her, complete with partnerships with big brands like Target and Taco Bell. She plans on using this income as a cushion after graduation as she enters the workforce in what will likely be a low-paying starter job in marketing, she said.

When looking at TikTok, Hauser said that the app seems to have a tighter grip on its content than some American-owned platforms, like Instagram. In her experience, the Instagram comment section has been more brutal than TikTok’s. 

TikTok, overall, has done a better job at censoring derogatory content, she said.

But it’s these differences in censorship protocols, or differences in “guardrails,” that have many Americans worried, said Rep. Valerie Foushee (NC-04), who represents Durham’s congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, many have voiced concerns about American data flowing into the app, which is a Chinese-owned company.

“We’re acting like Meta isn’t doing the same thing with our data,” Hauser said.

Meta, the American-owned parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has more than 3 billion monthly active users — three times that of TikTok.


Daniel Rodriguez, more commonly known as Drod, is a music artist based in Holly Springs. Between 629.1K listeners on Spotify and over 50,000 followers across social media apps, he credits his success to social media platforms like TikTok. 

“Recently, within the last year, TikTok has definitely been the biggest place where new people come in,” he said. 

Drod has 38.5 thousand followers on TikTok and consistently posts at least once a day on the application. His wife, Anna Gracen Rodriguez, manages and helps create his content. 

“Personally, when editing or creating content, we’re focusing on what will capture people’s attention,” she said, “I feel like that’s what TikTok is, it’s like you’re capturing your attention.”

Although Drod receives the majority of his revenue from Spotify and other streaming apps, he says that losing any social media platform affects his business and his brand as an artist. 

“It’s like a whole domino effect,” he said. “If you make good content on TikTok, then that audience will go to Spotify. And then from there, Spotify will share your music to a lot more people and then from there, you get even more fans and support.”

He also explained that even though he doesn’t receive revenue from TikTok, exposure from the app gives him revenue from Spotify. From August to October of 2023, Drod collected over 10 million views across all TikToks posted, and from there he noticed his daily stream count on Spotify spiked from 50,000 daily streams to 120,000.

For independent artists, social media is crucial in order to spread their art to millions of people at a time, according to Drod. 

“I’ve done like little shows and all that here and there. But none of that has compared to me building an audience online,” he said. 

Drod said that in the case of a ban, building back his TikTok audience of almost 40,000 followers on other platforms would be difficult.

However, even though the potential ban would affect artists and content creators, Drod and Anna Gracen are optimistic about a reinvention of TikTok or the rise of a different social media platform to replace the app if banned. 

“People still want to be entertained. People still want to turn off their minds from the stresses of their day and go on somewhere and scroll,” Anna Gracen said. “I know there would be other apps developed just in the same format as Tik Tok.”

The Bill

TikTok has been facing serious scrutiny by some American officials and lawmakers, who warn that its ties to China are national security risks.

On Wednesday, April 24, the U.S. government officially turned their concerns into action.

After making its way through the House of Representatives and the Senate with largely bipartisan support, President Biden signed the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” into law.

Senator Thom Tillis (NC-R) wrote in a tweet addressing the ban, “It’s [Congress] trying to get TikTok to cut its ties with Communist China and protect Americans.”

“Let’s be clear — we didn’t ban TikTok,” Rep. Foushee said. Rather, the bill gives ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company, two options: sell its American assets to an approved buyer, or see it banned in the U.S.

In 2023, CNBC reported that ByteDance was worth around $268 billion.

The bill started as H.R. 7521, but ultimately a modified version passed through the house as a rider to H.R. 8038 — a foreign aid package called the “21st Century Peace through Strength Act.” Of the modified bill’s summary, two of the 12 points referenced TikTok and data concerns.

The bill prohibits the U.S. from financially associating with ByteDance or similar foreign entities. It also prohibits data brokers from providing sensitive U.S. data to “foreign adversary countries,” like China. 

As a whole, the act will ban social networking apps — and explicitly TikTok — within 270 to 360 days if they are determined to be a “foreign adversary controlled application.” It will no longer be applicable if an app is sold and no longer considered to be controlled by a foreign adversary of the U.S.

“I think those of us who wanted to see the changes wanted to be sure that we’re protecting America’s children, that they are not being subject to what we believe is harmful,” Rep. Foushee said.

She expects that ByteDance will sell. While she added that the sale to a U.S.-based company would be preferred, she expects that the buyer would come from outside the U.S.

This implies that the “foreign” part of TikTok isn’t the primary issue for the U.S. government — just the “adversary” part.

Hauser said that short-form video content presents a unique intimacy in the modern world, voicing awe at the fact that videos created at home can “literally reach the world,” she said.

“I just think they’re shutting down a very fruitful, exciting, lively platform that has brought so much joy to people,” she said. “And they’re acting like the negative parts of TikTok won’t be reinforced on other platforms.”

Rep. Foushee acknowledged the positive impact of TikTok, especially for entrepreneurs who leverage it to promote their services. However, she emphasized the importance of ensuring that privacy is safeguarded and that TikTok does not obtain unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Whether or not the bill succeeds at eliminating various national security threats, the ramifications of banning TikTok would include real financial setbacks for content creators like Hauser and Drod.

“I urge everyone to just sit down with a content creator and listen to why this is just not a viable option,” Hauser said.

Edited by Mary Mungai