MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Is the clock ticking on TikTok? Has the social media giant created a national crisis? Here’s what we know from experts, content creators and legislators.
TikTok was first released in 2016, and when they acquired its rival, musical.ly, a year later, they added 200 million users. In 2018, it became the most downloaded app in the U.S. — though it didn’t actually explode in popularity until health lockdowns were in place in 2020.
The TikTok boom created TikTok superstars Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, who make millions of dollars through sponsored content on the platform and they’re not alone.
“I started taking content creation kind of seriously when TikTok came around, it was actually during COVID-19 and I was trapped in my house and really had nothing to do at the time,” said Thomas Peck, better known as ‘TPeck’ on social media.
TikTok now has over 150 million American users, that’s half of the U.S. population scrolling through short videos of music, dancing, comedy and life hacks.
“I don’t watch TV, I don’t have cable, I don’t watch any YouTube anymore really, like if I spend any of my extracurricular time, I spend it on TikTok so I’m ‘one of the masses,'” explained Geo Rutherford.
Content creators TPeck and Rutherford are both Wisconsinites. TPeck said he’s been a video content creator for over a decade, with 1.4 million people now following his travel adventures.
“For the first year, I was doing it, trying to hit a million followers, it was definitely my lifeline, I woke up and I made myself post like five, six videos a day, every day,” said Peck.
Rutherford was a high school art teacher for five years before she became self-employed through TikTok. She now teaches her 1.5 million followers fun and spooky facts about lakes.
“I think I like, fitted myself right into a niche of things that people hadn’t seen before, you know, there’s all sorts of videos about famous locations around the world that are iconic and beautiful like Yellowstone or, you know, any of those types of national park settings, but we hadn’t really had a global exploration of bodies of water on the planet and there are 117 million lakes on planet Earth and it was worth talking about,” Rutherford added.
Rutherford said in 2020, she posted every single day. Now, she dedicates one month in October to a full-blown production.
“It takes me a few hours to research it, I write a script, I have to put all of those images and get them set up so they’re all stacked correctly,” she explained. “I do everything on my phone and on the app so I spend 12 hours making those videos for ‘spooky lake month.'”
But years’ worth of hard work might be at risk if TikTok is banned or shuts down entirely in the U.S.
In late March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress for nearly five hours to address national security concerns.
Here’s what we know:
- TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance but it’s actually spearheaded by five men–three of which are American, one is Singapore-based and the other is in Hong Kong.
- There’s no current global headquarters and TikTok doesn’t operate in mainland China, it never did. Instead, they use its sister app called, ‘Douyin.’
- Unlike other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, which are all American companies, TikTok poses a unique concern because Chinese law obligates Bytedance to “support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work,” according to Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law.
The overall fear is the Chinese Communist Party would utilize this as a tool to spread lies and propaganda.
“I don’t think ownership is the issue here, with a lot of respect, American social companies don’t have a good track record with data privacy and user security,” said Chew in front of Congress during questioning.
And most users don’t seem to care about consumer data privacy anyway. Though they do recognize that there may be a larger, more political issue at hand.
Rutherford tells CBS 58 misinformation has been at play for years now, without TikToks help.
“Is the Internet pulling us apart as a country? The answer would be, yes,” Rutherford said. “Do I think TikTok is doing that? No. Do I think that the Chinese government is going to succeed in that venture on TikTok? No. Personally, I don’t think that.”
Join CBS 58 on Tuesday, June 6 for the second part of our TikTok Takeover series, where experts weigh in on the mental health component–addiction, distraction, cyberbullying, and overall influence.