Artists Respond to TikTok’s Nebulous Future in the US

The United States House of Representatives unanimously voted yesterday, March 12, to move forward with a bill that could result in a nationwide ban of TikTok if its owner, the Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, doesn’t sell it in 180 days. Prompted by longterm concerns alleging that ByteDance provides the Chinese government with American user data, legislation barring the download and use of TikTok on federally issued devices was signed into law at the end of 2022 later expanded to include equipment for active government contractors last June.

As of January 2024, the US takes first place in monthly user count on the platform, with almost 150 million Americans actively using TikTok to create, share, and engage with video content. From influencers and comedians to historians and visual artists, thousands if not millions of creators credit TikTok’s unique content curation algorithm for skyrocketing their exposure to new audiences and overall engagement.

As the Senate deliberates on the future of TikTok with no specific timeline, several artists and creative users spoke to Hyperallergic about their sentiments on the potential ban and how the app has impacted their practices.

“Rigatoni” Garrido, a Texas-based animator and the mastermind behind the viral squishable creature named Pipapeep, told Hyperallergic that while her videos aren’t monetized, a majority of her income comes from TikTok and Instagram redirecting traffic to her online Pipapeep merchandise shop and is supplemented by commission requests.

“Instagram accessibility is really hit or miss, as some videos I make perform way better on TikTok,” Garrido explained. Her fans, or “Pipa Pals,” are a “major part” of her small business, she noted, and would take a huge hit if TikTok were to be banned.

“As of recently, I’ve been scrambling to figure out some type of back-up plan that will help patch the hole TikTok will leave behind,” Garrido continued. It seems really unjust to ban it entirely because some people in our Congress simply don’t understand the app in its entirety.”

Fungkiigrrl samples from all corners of times past to bring us on a journey through her mind’s eye. (screenshots Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic via Fungkiigrrl on TikTok)

Hyperallergic also checked back in with Fungkiigrrl, a digital artist in California whose delectably delirious retro-futuristic videos tap into a wellspring of nostalgia for thousands of TikTok users. The artist said that “the US has more pressing issues to be concerned with than banning an entertainment application,” but maintained that she would find a way to connect with her audience. “My ultimate goal is to create a sovereign creative space where I can share my art without technological interference,” she said.

All of the artists who spoke to Hyperallergic specified that while TikTok was a great tool, they would continue to make content regardless of its potential ban. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the user counts ebb and flow across different social media platforms, from MySpace, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, and now X (formerly Twitter).

Josh Ellingson, an electronic and optical effects artist and an adjunct professor at California College of Art who has been sharing projects and tutorials on TikTok for about four years now, said that a majority of his viewership comes from Instagram. But he underscored that TikTok’s “famously accurate discoverability algorithm” boosts a lot of educational and tutorial-based content, and it would be a loss for such material to lose out on new audiences.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of the ByteDance issue, but it smells a little like fear mongering and anti-Chinese sentiment,” Ellingson said, opinin that US officials’ criticisms of the Chinese government have put a target on East Asians as a whole. “From the televised testimony that I’ve seen on the matter, Congress seems very out of touch. It would be a sad day to lose another social media platform to those that don’t understand it.”

As several social media platform executives testified in front of US lawmakers about online child safety measures last month, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas repeatedly probed Singaporean TikTok CEO Shou Chew about his nationality, citizenship, and affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party, asking bait questions about the Uyghur genocide and Tiananmen Square Massacre. When Chew appeared for a five-hour questioning at Capitol Hill in 2023 regarding TikTok’s user risks and ties to China, Cotton tweeted that Chew should be deported immediately and never be allowed to enter the States again.

Amanda Kelly, a miniatures artist in Virginia who posts artwork and tutorials under the name PandaMiniatures, told Hyperallergic that creating her TikTok account in 2020 has been “pivotal in the growth and success of [her] artist career.” Kelly clarified that she’s part of TikTok’s Creator program which helps to fund her miniatures practice, and that all of her commissions come through TikTok now — including projects from General Mills, XBOX, and Disney.

TikTok revamped its inaugural Creator Fund in late 2023, converting it into the Creator Rewards Program with the promise of higher payouts for content longer than one minute, tipping options, subscription-based paywalls, and other features designed to help creators profit off of their content.

“Losing income is just one part of [the potential TikTok ban], as I’d also be losing access to the online artist and miniaturist community I’ve been part of for years,” Kelly explained. “What I love the most about sharing my art on TikTok is hearing from followers who resonate with my work. My content also includes tutorials where I share my creative process and the techniques I use to inspire others to start making miniatures.”

“Without TikTok, artists would suffer a loss of exposure to a vast audience, a decrease in direct engagement with followers, and limited opportunities for collaborations and monetization,” Kelly pointed out, also noting that ByteDance’s terms and conditions for TikTok “don’t seem to collect anything notably different” from other social media companies.

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