No One Knows What TikTok Is

No One Knows What TikTok Is

“Most of these push notifications went to minor children, and these minor children were flooding our offices with phone calls,” Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois told CBS News. “Basically they pick up the phone, call the office, and say, ‘What is a congressman? What is Congress?’ They had no idea what was going on.”

Maybe TikTok won’t rapidly lose its relevance with young people after all.

That’s not what Krishnamoorthi is worried about, but maybe he should be. Not because all of those Gen Zers will one day be able to vote, but because TikTok is their lifeline to the world, and they don’t know what a congressman is. TikTok is where a lot of young people have found their community, their voice, their income. Eradicating TikTok, like the killing off of Vine, rips up a piece of the social fabric.

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Kayla Gratzer, a TikTok creator in Eugene, Oregon, who had a recent viral video about the mysterious pregnancy of Charlotte the stingray, noted that she would “hate to see the time, effort, and love gone into growing their platform be stripped away from them.” (Side note: Without TikTok, I may never know if, or when, Charlotte has her pups.)

There is also something to the notion that some TikTokkers make a living while also being a part of the cultural discourse and zeitgeist. Alex Pearlman, known on the platform as @Pearlmania500, has built a large following thanks to his humorous TikTok rants. When I emailed him about the bill, he noted that, thanks to TikTok, he’d been able to launch a podcast, build a community, and book a nationwide comedy tour. It also provided the income he needed for the birth of his son in December.

“If we had a functioning government,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t have had to yell on TikTok to be able to afford to start a family.”

What happens next with the TikTok bill is something of a mystery. It needs to go to the US Senate, but the timing on that is uncertain. If it passes, President Joe Biden has said he’ll sign it. Steven Mnuchin, the former US treasury secretary, claims he’s assembling a group of investors to buy TikTok if the measure goes through.

Watching all this unfold, I kept thinking about something Norman told me. As a biracial, bisexual person, she’s found a lot of her own corners of TikTok and remains unsure if she could just up and create that on another platform if the app gets blocked. Black people and queer people, she noted, already face censorship, so the question becomes, “Is there a future for me in America? That’s not really about how I am going to pivot on TikTok, but it’s more saying ‘Are there any areas in this country where I can exist?’”

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