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TikTok Artists Think Of Backup Plans As Trump Signs Order To Ban The App


TikTok has 45 days to find an American company to buy it, or it is going to be all but banned in the U.S. Microsoft has shown interest. The popular video app, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is the subject of an executive order President Trump issued yesterday. Trump says the app is a threat to data security and privacy, and this means that TikTok creators are stuck in limbo. NPR's Andrew Limbong checked in with a few of them. And full disclosure - TikTok helps fund NPR content that appears on the social media platform.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: When President Trump first started his attacks on TikTok, Isabella Avila, who uses the name @onlyjayus on TikTok, posted this to her 8 million followers.


ISABELLA AVILA: Kind of makes sense. The one thing going good in my life, being a content creator - the president's like, nah (ph). F*** you.

LIMBONG: Avila usually posts quirky facts about science and history, and TikTok has been her main source of income ever since she says she got fired from her old job at Best Buy for posting TikToks. She's since gone through waves of emotions - freaking out, calming down then hitting a resting state of worry. But there's also confusion.

AVILA: There's so many other things going on. Why is TikTok in the news? Why is it the No. 1 priority right now? There's a whole pandemic, and we're talking about TikTok.

LIMBONG: With TikTok maybe not existing by the fall, many creators are taking precautions by promoting accounts on different platforms. Ariadna Jacob is the CEO of Influences, a company that markets and manages creators. She also runs a couple of houses where TikTok creators live and collaborate with each other, which is where she was when I caught up with her.

ARIADNA JACOB: So if everybody can just keep it down for, like, 30 minutes, that would be awesome.

LIMBONG: Jacob has seen stars come and go on YouTube, on Instagram, on the now-defunct Vine. She's platform-agnostic and ready to change gears should TikTok disappear.

JACOB: I don't think anybody should start a management company just based on a platform, right? Like, I shouldn't just be a manager for TikTok stars. I think that we want to be a company for talented people that we can build careers with.

LIMBONG: That said, Jacob did join TikTok creators in signing a recent open letter addressed to the president arguing that TikTok tock deserves to stay. One of the main points is that unlike Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, the algorithm on TikTok offers a greater opportunity for non-famous people to become influencers, like Ariam Sekuar, who does makeup and fashion on TikTok under the name @iambrattyb.


ARIAM SEKUAR: Hi. This is a tutorial on how I do my everyday lip color. So let's get started.

LIMBONG: She says that on TikTok, the deals and offers she gets from brands are more equitable than on Instagram.

SEKUAR: I feel like TikTok was one of the first platforms to be actually taken seriously for what I think I'm worth as a creator.

LIMBONG: TikTok as a source of income, as a place to hang out and goof off, as a more democratic way of getting your voice out - losing these things are what creators and users are worried about. The stuff about the Chinese government invading your privacy and taking your data...

LAURA LEE WATTS: I honestly don't think anybody cares.

LIMBONG: Laura Lee Watts does cosmetics and comedy on TikTok. She says when it comes to data security, TikTok doesn't seem all that different from any other platform. In fact, she calls the Trump administration's concerns a ruse.

WATTS: I think it's more that United States' Big Tech is losing its competitive advantage. TikTok is really exploding in users, and I don't think they like that very much.

LIMBONG: A problem that would go away if Microsoft buys the company. Of course, creator Isabella Avila says there's another reason why President Trump hates TikTok. A lot of people use the platform to make fun of him.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIIV SONG, "UNDER THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.