Boomers Fail Gen-Z (Again) by Creating Chaos for TikTok
When I was laid off from my first job, it was because they decided to shut down the entire New York office. I was 23 and aghast that telling a whole bunch of people that they no longer had jobs through no fault of their own wasn’t illegal. Four years and countless layoffs in the media industry later, I can see this was comically naive. But watching creators scramble during this weekend’s TikTok shitshow struck a sympathetic chord within me. When I lost my first writing job, I had another one a week later. But the loss of TikTok would mean the elimination of a future that can never be replicated.
On Friday, Donald Trump announced that he planned to ban TikTok over the weekend after similar rumors had circled for weeks. Like many grand statements made by the president, this one turned out not to be true. But for three days, many young creators who have just launched careers on the app were in limbo.
If Instagram and Twitter are the outside world, then TikTok is the high school you spend eight hours in every day, bumping into the same people over and over, exchanging inside jokes and participating in drama that those on the outside would never understand. While other social media posts sometimes direct people outside the app (swipe up, link in the description, etc), everyone on TikTok exists in their own snow globe. Scroll as fast as you want, but you’ll always find yourself in about the same place.
Making a living through internet fame is pretty commonplace in 2020, and even those famous on TikTok often maintain a presence on apps like Instagram and YouTube. But the density of TikTok means that prominent creators tend to have followings on the app far that outweigh their counts elsewhere (even Charli D’Amelio, who has 76 million followers on TikTok, has “only” 25.5 million on Instagram). With the threat of the ban looming, many stars encouraged those swarms to follow them on other areas of the internet. But without TikTok, these creators lose the magic of the insular community that built them. Users go to TikTok to see TikTokkers, and merging those creators with the content of every other influencer makes for a much more passive experience. There’s just something about posting a video of yourself dancing for 15 seconds on Instagram that seems suddenly out of place, an echo reverberating off the pictures of house plants and sourdough that surround it.
That’s likely why a number of prominent creators made jokes about abandoning online fame entirely during this weekend’s uncertainty.
“Me walking into Panera Bread to try and get my job back,” Jackie James, a TikTok creator with two million followers, posted on Friday.
“Me at LSU tomorrow,” Addison Rae, who has 53.7 million followers, captioned a green-screen video of her appearing to knock on the doors of the university she dropped out of.
It’s a classic Gen-Z response—dealing with apocalyptic circumstances, many of which they inherited, through dark humor. But it was Emmy Hartman, a 21-year-old TikTokker with 1.5 million followers, who said what, deep down, everyone was probably thinking.
“Wait, what are we gonna do?” she asks the camera from underneath a blanket. “I’m not kidding...what are we gonna do? I’m really sad.”
Luckily, in a sentence that nobody expected to hear this side of 1995, Microsoft is saving the day. Or at least, it hopes to. It was already in talks to take the app out of the hands of ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company, but now they’ve confirmed they hope to reach a deal by September 15 regarding not just TikTok in the U.S., but in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s markets as well.
"These are the facts: 100 million Americans come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, especially during the pandemic,” TikTok said in a statement. “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. 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. 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."
As a TikTok posted by the general manager for TikTok US Vanessa Pappas says, “We’re not going anywhere.” For Gen-Z creators on the app, they better hope to hell that’s the case.