Trump's threatened TikTok ban could motivate young users to vote, some say

“If it hasn’t already, I think this will definitely be a gamechanger in young voters going out and voting for sure,” one user said.
By Kalhan Rosenblatt

TikTok star Tyler Nyx, 22, has one word on the idea of TikTok being banned in the United States.

“Heartbreaking.”

On Friday night, President Donald Trump announced he would ban the short-form video app, whose parent company, ByteDance, is based in China.

“As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump said aboard Air Force One.

The popular app that has 100 million users in the U.S. has proved especially vital to many during the coronavirus pandemic as a source of entertainment, community and education, a half-dozen users told NBC News in interviews Saturday.

They said TikTok has helped them both unplug from the harsh realities of the world and plug into communities that make them feel connected.

Some said that if Trump does ban the app, it could motivate many young TikTokers to vote against the president in the November election.

“If it hasn’t already, I think this will definitely be a game-changer in young voters going out and voting for sure,” Kaylyn Elkins, 18, of Washington state, said.

TikTok has recently been scrutinized in the United States because of its China-based owner. Chinese law can compel any domestic company to hand over data it has collected on users.

Like scores of other apps, TikTok tracks phone locations and users’ metadata, and China has demonstrated an appetite for Americans’ personal data.

TikTok has repeatedly said that it is not influenced by China’s demands and that it is an independent company. Still, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recently indicated that China views TikTok as a domestic company.

But many TikTokers have said they’re unbothered by the app’s connection to China and feel that if it was owned by a company based elsewhere, Trump wouldn’t be taking this kind of action.

“I think it’s just ridiculous considering what’s going on in the world and our country alone,” Elkins said. “I think if it was owned by a European country he wouldn’t even consider this idea.”

Trump’s announcement sent ripples through the TikTok community, with major influencers on the platform logging on to urge their followers to find them on other social media, like the streaming platform Twitch or the Facebook-owned Instagram.

“I’ve never seen that many people talking about one thing on the app for so long. I feel like the app has so many avenues, like there’s so many different things you could do on TikTok, the fact that everybody was focused on it being taken away was really interesting to me,” said Clara McCourt, 18, of New Jersey.

For some users like Nyx, the app has been a lifeline. She said she would be devastated if she no longer had the platform.

The community aspect is one reason young adults are so desperate to keep TikTok around.

For Nyx, the body-positivity community on the app has helped her reach 400,000 followers on the platform and connect with other content creators. She said she gets messages every day from women who say her presence and content has changed their lives for the better.

“Helping other people helps me feel amazing about myself,” she said. “I was heartbroken [hearing about Trump’s ban]. I couldn’t imagine losing this community that I’ve spent months building. I couldn’t imagine that. If I did lose this community I don’t know what I would do with myself.”

Such communities have been more important than ever during the pandemic to young people, who said the app has helped them to feel less isolated.

“Especially now, during this pandemic — it’s a weird, odd, scary time — and to know I’m not going through it alone is really comforting and it would be disappointing if it were to go away,” Elkins said.

Many of the TikTokers who spoke to NBC News would be voting for the first time this November and said Trump’s announcement motivated them to cast a ballot.

“It kind of feels like our freedom of speech is being taken away,” Anekha Singh, 18, of California, said. “Our ability to express ourselves is something he doesn’t want.”

@tiktok

A message to the TikTok community.

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Singh said she feels that Trump's attempting to take the platform away is an infringement on her generation’s free speech rights.

Some others said that the move feels like payback for the onslaught of TikTok users who reserved tickets to the president’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally in June, with no intention of attending.

Although it is unclear if the TikTokers reserving tickets had any effect on turnout at the rally, the move may have inflated turnout expectations.

“I think he is threatened because he knows it’s been used against him with the whole Tulsa rally incident,” Elkins said of TikTok.

McCourt was one of the TikTok teens who reserved tickets for the rally with no intention of going and said it could be the reason Trump announced the ban.

“I feel like that could be one of the reasons he wants it gone,” she said. “I personally see a lot of politics on my TikTok … it’s definitely a very powerful tool in informing my generation.”

In a video statement posted to TikTok on Saturday, TikTok U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas said the app is here to stay.

“We’ve heard your outpouring of support and we want to say thank you. We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Pappas said. “We are so proud of all the various communities that call TikTok their home.”

Pappas also mentioned that TikTok employs 1,500 people in the United States. In a statement, a spokesperson for TikTok said the app is committed to the privacy of its 100 million users in the United States.

"We've hired nearly 1,000 people to our US team this year alone, and are proud to be hiring another 10,000 employees into great paying jobs across the US.," the spokesperson said. "Our $1 billion creator fund supports US creators who are building livelihoods from our platform.

"TikTok US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access," the statement continued. "TikTok's biggest investors come from the US. We are committed to protecting our users' privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform."

Those statements were a source of comfort for the TikTok users who spoke to NBC News as it offered reassurance that the people behind the app would fight to keep it in the United States.

“It brought me a lot of comfort and it reminded me a lot has happened between last night and today,” McCourt said. “It felt like there are people behind the app that are going to fight for it.”