You downloaded TikTok as a joke, but now you’re addicted, right? Well, since its explosion into social media both in the United States and internationally, the fate of TikTok has been in jeopardy. Citing privacy concerns and ownership of the app, TikTok has been at risk of being blocked in America as it has other places. Even President Donald Trump has commented on the app directly, saying he wants China, and company ByteDance, to cede control of TikTok. For right now, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a statement pushing back restrictions on the app for at least another week, but the future of the app in the United States is still unknown and it leaves college students, both watchers and makers of TikToks, in limbo.
Downloading TikTok as a joke is a common story for many college students, including Siena Fontanesi, a psychology student with over 48,000 followers on TikTok.
“It kind of started as a joke,” Fontanesi said. “In quarantine, I made a series and it kind of got big and so I just started to do it more and more.”
Fontanesi was on TikTok for a long time before she started creating content on the app. The now junior downloaded the app not long before her freshman year at Michigan State. “I would see it all the time on Twitter and Instagram and all the videos were super funny,” Fontanesi said.
Fontanesi saw an increase in her use of TikTok once she was quarantining. She now spends multiple hours a day on the app.
“Honestly probably a good two or three hours especially with school being online and there being nothing to do. It’s one of my main sources of social media now,” Fontanesi said.
Reiley Brown, a human biology and neuroscience student also spends about the same amount of time on the app.
“Probably about two to three hours a day depending on if I use it at night. A lot of times I’ll lay in bed … and watch TikToks, so that’s where most of my time is spent on the app,” Brown said.
Brown has also gained a large following on the app. She now has 56,000 followers and was invited to join the TikTok creator program in June. Brown started posting DIY projects over the summer but transitioned to making more comedic videos as the semester approached. Since joining the creator program, Brown has gotten multiple opportunities because of the app.
“Over the summer I was able to join a zoom call with a bunch of famous creators that had a couple million (followers),” Brown said.
“They talked to us about how to market your profile and advertise yourself and create a name for yourself on the app. I thought that was cool because even though it doesn’t directly apply to my future career or my major it taught me something about marketing and appearance on social media ... I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with a couple of companies. I got free products and sometimes they would pay me and I thought that was cool to be able to work with other companies and have that interaction.”
While the app, which started as Musical.ly before its Aug. 2018 rebrand, has become a bigger part of Brown’s life, it just started as a way to laugh with her friends.
“I got into mostly for my friends,” Brown said.
“I downloaded it because a lot of my friends had it and they were sending me videos. When it was Musical.ly I was never really into it and then once it switched over to TikTok some of the content I just thought was funny.”
Katie Vanyo, an MSU student and TikTok creator with over 22,000 followers, similarly downloaded the app because of her friends.
“I downloaded it because a lot of my other friends were getting it. I was hesitant at first but decided to hop on the trend,” Vanyo said in a Facebook comment.
Whether it is usage or becoming a creator, many college students have seen an uptick in how they use the app since its rebrand and especially since quarantine. For creative advertising student Charlie Shoha, the way he used TikTok evolved over time. He has been on the app for a year but just started making content in the past month.
“It used to just be entertainment,” Shoha said.
“I can just sit on that app and time just deletes itself basically … I use it mostly to market my YouTube channel … so the uploading I do on TikTok is 100 percent marketing to get people to go to my YouTube.”
As a marketing strategy, using TikTok has benefited him greatly. He has only been posting clips to TikTok for a month but has already amassed 17,000 followers.
“It’s been great. My only regret is not doing it sooner,” Shoha said.
“It’s driven a lot of traffic to my YouTube channel. I got a crazy amount of subscribers within the last month so I’d say it’s definitely been a good marketing tactic to get my channel out there more.”
But TikTok doesn't have the same appeal to everyone, even when the benefits of exposure are considered.
For Hannah Diggs, a marketing and Spanish student, TikTok has never appealed to her. But she appreciates the creative outlet it is for some people.
“I never downloaded TikTok because so many of my friends use to constantly and I think it prevents people from fostering strong in-person relationships,” Diggs said in a Facebook message.
“Almost all of my friends have TikTok but a few think similarly to me and have decided not to have it. TikTok is just like another social media app to me and it seems like an awesome creative outlet for so many people.”
Diggs takes a neutral stance as to whether TikTok is good or bad.
“I don’t think it’s any more good or bad for society than any other social media so it’s not even if TikTok goes away, there are now Instagram Reels and there are still so many other social medias out there,” Diggs said in a Facebook message.
Rumors of a TikTok ban are nothing new and have been swirling in the past month since President Donald Trump released an executive order about the threats the app poses. A new set of prohibitions were set to be put into place by the U.S. Department of Commerce in order to protect the national security of the United States.
These restrictions were narrowly avoided as President Donald Trump has approved a deal between TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, and Oracle. While the deal has been approved, the restrictions have only been pushed back by a week, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
If the deal had not been approved, the U.S. Department of Commerce would have limited access to TikTok beginning Sept. 20, according to a press release. These restrictions come after President Trump expressed national security concerns relating to the app.
According to the press release, President Trump is giving TikTok until Nov. 12 to resolve the national security concerns. Another app, WeChat is having access limited after similar national security concerns arose. If the restrictions go into place, those who have downloaded TikTok will still be able to use the app, but no new downloads or updates will be available in app stores in the United States.
As for how this might affect the creators on TikTok, there are varying views as to how their experience on the app might change. Fontanesi can ultimately see something positive coming from the possible restrictions.
“It is kind of a bummer because I do have fun on it, and it is a good confidence boost to have a ton of followers … but at the same time, it’s probably good that I won’t be on it as much. It doesn’t really run my life so I’m not too upset about it,” Fontanesi said.
Brown not only uses the app to make money and work with businesses but as a way to give herself a break when she needs one.
“I think that’s a little upsetting because I know that a lot of my friends and I use it as a way to relax and if we’re having anxiety or something or … if there’s a lot of pressure from school it’s a way to relax and take your mind off of it and use it as an escape,” Brown said.
“I’ve also been able to make some money off of it from the brand deals which I use to go towards textbooks so that’s upsetting too.”
For Shoha though, he is not personally concerned about the restrictions the app may be facing but knows that content creators that rely on TikTok more than he does may be more concerned for the app’s future.
“Right now I would just say I’m not too worried,” Shoha said.
“It always just gets better over time and it’s never the end so I’m not really too worried about TikTok from a personal perspective but I can see where bigger content creators, where their eggs are more so in one basket, they would be worried.”
For now, TikTok isn't banned, but it isn't in the clear either. College students who rely on the app are still in limbo, but as college students do, are already thinking of ways around the ban. Vanyo is not concerned about the limitations that have been narrowly avoided, because she already has a way around them.
“I’m not too concerned about the ban,” Vanyo said in a Facebook message.
“I’ll probably just download a VPN so I can continue to use it and update it. Even if it crashes and burns, I’m sure another app just like it will come out.”
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