TikTok ban threatens sense of community online4 min read
by SHELBY GRAY HERZOG
Banning TikTok will harm content creators and users by removing a valuable platform for community-building.
TikTok, a widely popular social media app that gained popularity in 2018 when it was merged with Musical.ly, has become a competitor for other apps like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
However, as of recently, President Joe Biden and Congress are making efforts to ban the app completely, citing concerns with the Chinese government obtaining information on users in the U.S. In response, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said, “The bottom line is this is American data on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel” regarding safety concerns about consumer information.
Banning TikTok does more harm than good, especially because the concerns that U.S. politicians posed to Chew are not as dire or worrying as they were posed to be. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, the U.S. had not proven that TikTok threatens national security.
Additionally, according to Time Magazine, “Chew compared the steps TikTok is taking—to protect both data security and the safety of young users—to the practices of other big tech companies. He described the measures TikTok takes to verify the age of its users and enforce restrictions for children and teens as industry-leading.”
In spite of the political back-and-forth concerning the app, TikTok proves to be a hub of culture and community, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic when social media platforms were a major source of engagement.
Through making my videos, I felt seen and heard by those who I felt truly understood me. My first hit was a video that unintentionally went viral in December of 2020 and has continued to be influential in my personal life today. TikTok gave me a platform to be my authentic self and connect with followers and strangers who either could relate or genuinely enjoyed consuming my content.
“The majority of the content on there is not worth banning,” said senior psychology major Julia Mrotek.
Political and social leanings aside, this ban impacts more than just the average TikTok user. Creators who have a following and monetize their content would be harmed in more ways than one, stretching from inconvenience to returning to the job search. Although my personal following generated only a small amount of passive income at its peak of 50,000 followers, I found that the community created in my comment section and from the curation of my followers ended up being of much greater importance.
The impact of banning this platform would be devastating for those who have come to find community and connection on the app.
Kayla Seal, a senior sociology major said, “It is not life threatening to me, but it is an escape from reality for a second as well. It’s something I enjoy that makes me laugh, and I spend a lot of time on it though. I have a feeling the conspiracy theories and accessibility to medical information and exposure of some systems is the actual reason they would want to ban it.”
As a non-traditional student—transferring to Mary Wash at the age of 25, knowing zero students or faculty members and commuting an hour to campus each way—I have had a difficult time making connections within the UMW community. Finally, I feel settled and comfortable in my relationships with fellow students who have become friends just in time for my graduation.
Additionally, I was in a long distance relationship for half of my time as a UMW student, so I feel grateful that my followers carried me through periods when I lacked concrete personal connections in my day-to-day life and that were extremely mentally and emotionally isolating for me. Whether it was venting, posting my outfit of the day or speaking candidly to my audience of followers and viewers, I was able to feel a part of a community on TikTok, which was not something I was able to feel in my personal life at the time.
Setting aside influencer culture for a moment and considering those who rely on TikTok for a sense of community, purpose and relief from social isolation for various reasons, banning TikTok would do more harm than good. While turning to different apps would always remain an option, each and every one of my followers and commenters has helped me feel less alone not only in my varying experiences but in the world itself. I would not reach the same number of people nor have the ability to consume and produce content with the same authenticity and intimacy on other forms of social media.
The surge in discovery and careers taking off from TikTok has prompted many an influencer to make TikToking their full time jobs. Would this level of monetization be able to be achieved on other platforms? If so, would one’s followers or magnitude of following transfer over? Taking it to a generalized extreme—if the ban were to result in the destruction of influencer culture what could that mean going forward for the influencers of the world across all apps? Could the influencer culture die off just as quickly as it took off?
Overall, TikTok is my outlet, my safe space and most importantly an online community that should be freely and rightfully accessible.