Ty Gibson, 20, of Greensboro, North Carolina, brushed off speculation last week on TikTok that his favourite video sharing platform was going to be banned.
By Thursday, users panicked after a glitch on the service erased video views, a measure of video popularity. Suddenly, news reports of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s threats to block Chinese-owned apps like TikTok hit home as he watched other users flood the app with goodbyes.
US lawmakers have raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data, and said they were worried it would be required to share data with the Chinese government.
“I thought it was the end,” Gibson said in an interview. “I didn’t even have time to think things through.”
Gibson recorded his own farewell video for his 4.6 million fans, asking them to follow him on YouTube and Facebook’s Instagram.
While TikTok’s fate in the United States is undecided, the news set off a wave of worries among its devoted user base, who are coming up with backup plans on other services. Some, like e-sports star Tyler Blevins, known more widely as Ninja, who has 4 million followers on TikTok, told his 6 million followers on Twitter that he already deleted TikTok from his phone.
Loyalists are sitting tight for now. But they are distraught – sharing videos of themselves crying (and dancing) with hashtags like #TikTokBan which has 212 million views and #SaveTikTok, with 315 million views on the app.
“If TikTok loses consumer trust, then they lose their relevance,” said Alexander Patino, deputy director of the American Influencer Council, a trade association for social media personalities who market products online.
While there are real security questions about TikTok, the Trump administration’s motives are primarily political, which make it not only difficult to predict what the government will decide, but nearly impossible to fight back if it proceeds with a ban, said Justin Sherman, a nonresident fellow at think tank Atlantic Council, who focuses on geopolitics and cybersecurity.
“I don’t think the company could do anything to placate them,” he said.
TikTok has said it has never given user data to the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked, adding that the company has not been asked.
Sponsors on hold
The effect of a ban on the advertising world would be minimal as TikTok’s ad business is still nascent and brands would easily migrate to other platforms, one executive at a major ad agency said.
But corporate sponsorship of so-called influencers has already suffered. One major consumer-goods brand put a five-figure deal with a TikTok influencer on ice for at least two months, because it did not want to be associated with negative news about the app, said Joe Gagliese, chief executive of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation, declining to name the brand.
James Lamprey, a chef with 1.2 million TikTok followers, said the uncertainty has caused a camera company to pause their deal with him for a sponsored TikTok video, worth $1,000, until there was more clarity about the app’s fate.
Lamprey said he has started trying to get his TikTok fans to follow him on Instagram. But if TikTok is banned, the impact to his earnings could be huge, he said.
“For TikTok, these brands are contacting me left and right,” Lamprey said. “They want to get in front of that audience.”
Rivals closing in
Smaller rivals like Triller, Byte and Dubsmash have watched downloads of their apps spike after Pompeo’s comments. Some are now proactively targeting TikTok users.
Triller, which became known for its focus on hip-hop music, is reaching out to top TikTok stars while it fields inbound interest from creators wanting to grow their Triller accounts, said Ryan Kavanaugh, founder of Proxima Media, which operates Triller.
Taylor Cassidy, a TikTok influencer with 1.7 million followers, said some TikTok competitors, which she declined to name, have nudged her to build her presence on those apps, guaranteeing her an immediate verified account, which often helps influencers negotiate larger deals.
Daily app downloads in the United States for Byte, Dubsmash, Triller and Likee have all jumped, according to data from Apptopia. In particular, Dubsmash more than doubled to over 46,000 downloads on Thursday, while Byte skyrocketed to over 28,000 downloads on Thursday, versus just 3 400 the day before.
Dylan Tate, an 18-year-old TikTok user from Greenville, South Carolina with 1.2 million followers, has been promoting reasons why users should move to Byte in his recent TikTok videos, including that Byte gives 100% of ad revenue to its creators.
“I’ve been commenting on people’s TikToks to tell them to go to Byte. Now people are doing it themselves,” he said.