Over 30 TikTok creators, some of whom have millions of followers on the app, recently took a field trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the platform amid increasing tensions with the Biden administration. ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, paid for the all-expenses trip that included first-class airfare and high-end accommodations.
The trip was not all play, as the creators also had a serious agenda. The Biden administration has pushed TikTok to sell its video app or face a potential ban in the United States over national security concerns. Shou Chew, TikTok’s Singapore-based chief executive, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.
The creators who went to Washington had dinner with Chew on Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning, they met with reporters on Capitol Hill to share their experiences on TikTok. The creators included fashion and lifestyle influencers, a Navy veteran, a family account run by two lesbian moms, and several teachers who emphasized the importance of the platform to education.
TikTok has recently made an effort to address concerns over the security of user data, such as routing American user data through Oracle rather than servers in China. The creators echoed these talking points and statistics such as TikTok’s 150 million American users.
Janette Ok, a TikTok creator from Los Angeles, said that she is not worried about national security concerns raised by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “Security and privacy is a No. 1 priority for the app,” she said. “It’s top of mind for them.” Critics of the platform say that it could be used to give the Chinese government access to the personal data of its users in the United States.
Despite the serious topic at hand, the creators still found time for fun. Duncan Joseph, a 20-year-old creator, reminisced about the last time he was in Washington for an eighth-grade field trip. The TikTok representatives who accompanied the creators on their trip took on the role of de facto chaperones, shuttling them from place to place and making sure they had time for bathroom breaks.
Many of the creators on the trip have made TikTok their full-time job, with some earning as much as $70,000 for a single brand deal. Kenny Jarry, an 81-year-old Navy veteran from Minnesota, said that joining TikTok two years ago had fundamentally changed his life. Through a brand partnership, he got new teeth, and his followers also helped him crowd-fund a new mobility scooter.
Ebony and Denise Nunez, two lesbian moms who run a family TikTok account featuring their three children, said that they hope the proposed TikTok ban would not go through. “You’d be taking our family away,” Ebony said. They added that they had left prior careers to focus solely on making content for the app.
TikTok has become a major cultural force in recent years, with its short-form videos and viral challenges capturing the attention of millions of users around the world. The creators who went to Washington hoped to convey the positive impact that TikTok has had on their lives and to counter concerns over national security. Their trip shows that the platform is not just a source of entertainment, but also a political force to be reckoned with.