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Content creators blast a potential TikTok ban

Participants hold signs in support of TikTok at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 12, 2024, in Washington, D.C. House Democrats and TikTok creators and business owners held the news conference to express concerns over House GOP legislation that would force the owners of the popular Chinese social media app to sell the platform or face a ban in the U.S.
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Participants hold signs in support of TikTok at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 12, 2024, in Washington, D.C. House Democrats and TikTok creators and business owners held the news conference to express concerns over House GOP legislation that would force the owners of the popular Chinese social media app to sell the platform or face a ban in the U.S.

The House is gearing up for a Wednesday vote on bipartisan legislation that could lead to a ban on TikTok, one of the most widely used apps in the world with an estimated 170 million users in the United States alone.

The possibility of a potential ban has outraged thousands of content creators who rely on the site as their main source of income.

Amber Estenson, a 42-year content creator also known as "That Midwestern Mom," went viral on TikTok two years ago when she uploaded one of her quirky Minnesota "salad" concoctions. The ingredients — Snickers bars, apples, Jell-O and Cool Whip — made her a viral sensation.

With a million followers on TikTok, Estenson said she's worried about the potential U.S. ban, calling the site her "lifeline."

"A ban is unrealistic and absurd. For me personally, it would mean a loss of income ... It would mean I would lose a million follows," Estenson said.

Other TikTokers use their platform as a means of giving back. William McCoy, who goes by Izzy White, is a former drug dealer and ex-felon from Baltimore. He said he uses his platform to help homeless people in his community.

"Without TikTok, basically all the mouths that I feed every day wouldn't get fed every day," McCoy said.

Lawmakers from both parties have thrown their support behind a bill that would force TikTok's China-based parent company, ByteDance, to divest the app within six months of the law's enactment or face a nationwide ban.

China's stake in the app has raised national security concerns from both Democrats and Republicans.

But Jameel Jaffer, a civil liberties attorney at Columbia University, said a ban is not the remedy to this particular issue.

"TikTok is not the only platform that collects that kind of information. Many other platforms collect that information including American platforms and that data is then made available to data brokers who then sell it to foreign governments" Jaffer said.

As it stands, government employees on the federal level and in several states are mostly prohibited from using TikTok on government-issued devices. In May of 2023, Montana became the first state to ban the app on all personal devices. (A judge blocked the law in November 2023, before the ban could take effect. The state has since appealed the decision.)

TikTok has maintained that it now uses a separate, U.S.-based entity from ByteDance to store its American user data, but the reassurance hasn't been enough to convince many of the platform's skeptics.

The bill, which passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week with unanimous approval, appears to have the support it needs to pass the House.

House Speaker Mike Johnson stands behind the measure, telling reporters this week that TikTok is "actively undermining our economy and security."

President Biden has said that he would be willing to sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Windsor Johnston has been a newscast anchor and reporter for NPR since 2011. As a newscaster, she writes, produces, and delivers hourly national newscasts. Occasionally, she also reports breaking news stories for NPR's Newsdesk.