TikTok Ban Risks Cutoff For Youth-Run Businesses

By Lauren Feldman
Readers may know TikTok as just another social media app, but for many, particularly Gen Z, TikTok has been not only a social platform but also a means of income. With the question of banning the app being brought forward for government consideration again, what does the future look like for young, independent, online businesses?
Back in mid-March, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would require ByteDance, a reputable Chinese tech company, to ban TikTok in the United States. The legislation, now known as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Application Act, was forwarded by the U.S. government Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) on March 5. On March 7, the legislation garnered approval from the Energy and Commerce Committee, as it has been concerned over TikTok’s control by a foreign adversary The bill is currently facing pushback in the Senate and has yet to be approved by the President.
If successful, this legislation could eliminate TikTok from the United States in as little as six months, which could be devastating for those who have fostered business relations and a customer base through the app.
Social media growth offers innumerable potential to do business in the U.S. and globally. Large followings on Instagram and TikTok have increasingly become a requisite for cultural, economic, and even political capital.
The influencer market can be especially selective — there is no surefire way to ensure success when algorithms regularly change how viewers are presented with content — but the field holds a lot of appeal to younger people entering the workforce. Especially because in recent years, brands have begun to shift their focus from “mega-influencers” (those with more than a million followers), to “micro-influencers” with less than 100,000 followers, who cost a lot less and tend to specialize in a particular subject. In other words, it’s become a lot easier—and accordingly, much more common—to produce content on social media that makes you money. This has been a trend over the past several years, expedited during the pandemic, when in-person work was sparse and in some cases dangerous.
In an economy where dollars seem to stretch less and less far each year, and even community college can cost tens of thousands, Gen Z has looked to alternative paths into the working world. While it may seem like an easy job to become an influencer, or sell your products online, for the average individual there is a lot of invisible labor that goes into the process. There are certainly downsides to a job through social media. TikTok, like other platforms, has touted flexibility and “being your own boss” as benefits, while being able to avoid providing benefits, insurance, or a minimum wage.
Those who have found success on the app might be labeled “lucky” — and they are — but luck has to accompany intense invisible labor and perseverance in the face of a job with little to no security. It is hard not to root for these young people, some of whom are in their teens, who are trying to pave the way for themselves and carve their own path to success. While the question of TikTok’s data protection is open to debate, it must be said that to see months, even years, of effort put into establishing a business online only for it to be lost in an instant is heartbreaking.
And the buck does not stop at TikTok. All social media platforms run the risk of losing steam, of outliving public favor. Millenials remember Facebook in its heyday, or MySpace. In the last half a decade, we have witnessed extraordinary changes to Twitter, including its owner, name and logo. Even TikTok was once Musical.Ly where social media influencers began raking in views from audiences they brought over from Vine.
There is no easy solution for someone looking make money through social media. In the scope of our history, it is an nascent system of communication and entertainment. It is too soon to tell what the future of social media will look like. What can be said is while some may not care about the downfall of an app on their phone, for others, the way they are able to financially support themselves is once again up in the air, and the terror of losing it all runs deep.

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