Creators, Influencers Contemplate a TikTok-Free Future

Owners of the video platform have been ordered to sell or shut down — which would leave creators in the lurch.
Blake Snow
By Blake Snow 
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff

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The clock is ticking on the future of TikTok in the U.S., leaving creators and influencers who make a living on the short-form video platform to consider how they will adapt if the plug is pulled.

President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill in April that aims to force the platform’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell to a new U.S. owner — or face an outright ban. The current deadline is Jan. 19, 2025.

The odds of a ban are hard to gauge. TikTok, for its part, is already challenging the constitutionality of the measure in court: “We will keep fighting for your rights in the courts,” TikTok president Shou Chew told users in a video posted on the app. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail.” And this week, a group of eight creators (bankrolled by TikTok) filed a lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.

Opponents have long claimed that, because of its Chinese ownership, the short-form video app poses a security threat. That hasn’t hurt TikTok’s popularity, with the company claiming it has 170 million U.S. users and more than a billion worldwide. A CNN/Edison poll says it is the third most-popular social media site in the U.S., behind Facebook and Instagram; Pew Research says TikTok is used by 62% of adults under 30.

All of which makes it a lucrative space for TikTok’s vibrant community of creators and influencers, who build sizable audiences with their video content and are frequently paid to promote products and services. Some creators are pulling down six-figure salaries, with a select few making millions per year.

Creators weigh their options

The prospect of an eventual ban evoked a range of reactions from influencers interviewed by email.

Malvika Sheth

Malvika Sheth

I feel helpless. As a creator, it feels like the ground is always moving underneath our feet.
Malvika Sheth, TikTok influencer

“I feel helpless,” said Malvika Sheth (@stylebymalvika), a fashion and beauty influencer from Los Angeles. “As a creator, it feels like the ground is always moving underneath our feet. We're constantly having to adapt our businesses to stay relevant on new apps. Whether TikTok is sold to a U.S. owner or is shut down, our businesses and strategies will inevitably be impacted.”

Sheth and others are already strategizing on how to adapt, weighing alternatives and shifting resources to other platforms like YouTube Shorts, which Google recently launched to compete with TikTok’s popularity. “The hope is that, of course, the app sticks around, but one can't be too sure,” Sheth said.

Camille Viviana

Camille Viviana

In light of the uncertainty surrounding TikTok's future, I'm exploring alternative platforms and diversifying my content strategy.
Camille Viviana, TikTok influencer

“I'm deeply concerned about the potential impact of this law,” said Camille Viviana (@camilleviviana_), a full-time TikTok influencer from Dallas making “six figures a year” from the platform. As she states on her channel, a TikTok ban would be catastrophic for her and the 7 million others that depend on TikTok to generate revenue.

“In light of the uncertainty surrounding TikTok's future, I'm exploring alternative platforms and diversifying my content strategy,” Viviana said. “YouTube shorts is definitely one option, and I'm also considering platforms like Instagram Reels and maybe even Pinterest. Additionally, I'm focusing on building my presence on other social media channels to ensure I have multiple streams of income.”

In terms of preferred outcomes, the TikTok-ers NerdWallet spoke to were split on wanting TikTok to remain under its current Chinese ownership (“which have done a great job fostering a creatively successful platform,” one user said) or keeping its stateside position under a new U.S. owner.

Viviana, for instance, prefers the latter. “I hope for a resolution that allows TikTok to continue operating in the U.S. under a U.S.-based owner. This would not only preserve the livelihoods of content creators like myself but also maintain the vibrant community and diverse content that TikTok is known for.”

Sheth is concerned that a new U.S. owner could actually hinder free expression and increase censorship — something big American tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple have recently come under fire for. “I'm hoping for an outcome where even if a U.S. firm acquires TikTok, new ownership does not stifle creativity and free speech, as we’ve recently seen from a lot of U.S. owned apps.”

Some doubt the likelihood of a sale or ban

Other TikTok users interviewed aren’t too worried. “I don't think the sale or shutdown will happen,” said Kevin Caron (@kevincaronart), an artist and influencer from Phoenix. “While I know other countries, like India, have shut down TikTok, I don't see how that will happen in America. Either way, the legal battle will probably take years.”

Cheyenne Hunt (@cheyennehuntca), an attorney based in Washington, D.C., with a popular presence on TikTok, takes issue most with what she calls the misguided nature of the new law. “Banning a single app does nothing to prevent foreign adversaries from doing what they’ve always done while collecting our data from all across the internet. This just shows how little our lawmakers actually understand about technology.”

When asked for her legal opinion if the law will hold up in court, Hunt said it’s “highly unlikely,” something most attorneys we reached out to echoed. In short, this will be a long legal battle that will “eventually head to the Supreme Court,” predicted Aron Solomon, an attorney from New York. “The Court should probably pass on it, because while it's politically interesting, it isn't legally compelling.”

Pete Potente

I don’t see TikTok going away. I believe this will blow over, and I do not see the ban holding up in court.
Pete Potente, attorney

“I don’t see TikTok going away,” said Pete Potente, an attorney from Southern California. “I believe this will blow over, and I do not see the ban holding up in court.”

So what can working TikTok-ers do in the meantime? “For those who rely on the platform for their livelihoods, it's wise to prepare for potential disruptions,” counseled Jamie Wright, an attorney from Los Angeles. “Diversifying income sources, such as expanding to other social media platforms or exploring alternative revenue streams where they can monetize their content, such as Instagram Reels.”

Potente advises creators to stay the course. “Try not to get carried away with worries that haven’t occurred yet. Keep forging ahead and be patient," he said. "The legal reality that existed yesterday is still the same today. If you want to be proactive, consider looking at other opportunities that apply the same technology as TikTok, but stick to your current business plan while this plays out.”

Sheth, meanwhile, is doubling down on what made her a success in the first place. “At the end of the day, I'm a creative storyteller, and will find ways to tell my story — no matter the platform.”

(Top photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images. Photos within the text provided to NerdWallet by the subjects.)

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