Late Friday night, a social platform best known for coordinated dance routines and funny videos turned somber. TikTok users across the US began livestreaming and posting videos in tribute to what they feared was the end of TikTok, the short-form video app they’ve come to love and depend on.
“Everyone is live right now,” said Ehi Omigie, who has about 25,000 followers on TikTok, in a livestream on the app Friday night after news broke of a possible US ban. “Everyone is going cray cray … If it does happen, follow me on Instagram.”
Others were strategizing ways to get around a ban, including by trying to trick servers to make it look like they’re browsing from a different country where TikTok is allowed to operate. “Do not panic, do not panic,” one user repeated several times in a video. “Do not panic yet. Do not panic right now.”
President Donald Trump said Friday night that he will ban TikTok from operating in the US, rejecting a potential deal for Microsoft (MSFT) to buy the app from its Chinese-owned parent company. The decision came weeks after the Trump administration first signaled it was “looking at” banning the app amid heightened tensions between the US and China.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump said to reporters while aboard Air Force One on Friday. Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order. It was not immediately clear what such an order would look like and what legal challenges it may face.
The President’s threat to shut down the platform also comes a month after a stunt organized mainly through TikTok may have led to a sparsely-attended Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the days leading up to the June 20th rally, a coordinated effort was underway on TikTok encouraging people to register online for the free event and not show up.
TikTok isn’t just an app for silly videos. It’s a service that has exploded in popularity in the US, reaching 100 million people in the country, many of them teens who use it to express themselves and connect with others. It’s a place where millions of people have gone to try to escape the pandemic, even if only for a moment. And its a business, however controversial, with 1,400 employees in the US and plans to hire thousands more.
Like any social media platform, people have grown to depend on TikTok as a way to build a career in social media and earn a living. Many social media stars have spent months or years building a following and creating videos, earning money from livestreaming, promoting music and sponsored content deals.
Now these influencers could lose the community they built on TikTok, leaving them with a tough choice for whether to try to rebuild all over again on other platforms with very different dynamics and content production requirements.
On TikTok’s official TikTok account, its US General Manager Vanessa Pappas appeared in a video thanking American users for their “outpouring of support.”
“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Papas said in the video. “When it comes to safety and security, we’re building the safest app because we know it’s the right thing to do … We’re here for the long run. Continue to share your voice here and let’s stand for TikTok.”
Hope Schwing, a TikTok user with 8 million followers, posted a video on Friday night thanking her followers for “changing her life.”
The video features a montage of screenshots of how her account has grown over the years, and a teary-eyed Schwing blowing a kiss to her fans. The text on-screen of the video said: “I never thought anyone would watch my videos, but here we are. This isn’t just an app. It’s a family. Each and every one [sic] of you have changed my life for the better … You have all made so many of my dreams come true at such a young age. I love you. Thank you.”
Many creators went live or created videos telling their fans to follow them on other social platforms, including Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and short-form video app Triller.
“I hope that we get to stay with TikTok,” said TikTok user Emma Tovey, who has 120,000 followers, in a livestream. “I just wanted to just go ahead and make sure that you guys were aware of my social media accounts… I have those linked in my profile.”
And despite it all, some – including one of TikTok’s most famous older users, who goes by the moniker Grandma Sandy – sounded a note of hope.
“We’re all going to stay together as a family,” Grandma Sandy, who has 2.5 million followers on the platform, said in a livestream. “No matter what happens we’re going to continue on, all of us.”