TikTok is fighting to justify its existence in the US. This week, he’s going all out in Washington, D.C., in hopes of proving that the government shouldn’t ban the app.
Dozens of TikTok creators and influencers will gather on Capitol Hill Wednesday night to talk about how the app is central to their livelihoods and communities. The event, hosted by a Chinese company, is expected to feature the creators of popular accounts such as Back in the Kitchen with Bae, Sparks of Joy, and Chemistry Teacher Phil.
“Legislators in Washington debating TikTok need to hear firsthand from the people whose lives will be directly affected by their decisions,” said TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown.
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Show Chu is due to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the company’s privacy practices, the app’s impact on children, and its relationship with the Chinese government.
TikTok’s hype is on the rise, as is its spending on lobbyists.
Bringing creators to the Capitol is part of a larger TikTok lobbying effort in the country.
The app is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and has come under attack from the US government in the past few months.
Lawmakers from both parties said they were concerned that the app was leaking Americans’ data to its Chinese owners. Congress scrutinizes its data and privacy practices, and several bills have been introduced to regulate the social media company.
According to Forbes, the FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating whether the app spied on US citizens, including journalists.
On top of that, President Joe Biden is considering banning the app. His administration has demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their stakes in the app or face a nationwide ban. Former President Donald Trump also threatened to ban the app in 2020.
As the TikTok heatwave has risen rapidly over the past few years, so has TikTok’s lobbying costs.
According to Open Secrets, a non-profit organization that tracks lobbying spending, it spent more than $5.3 million in 2022 sending lobbyists to defend its position.
This is more than 10 times the $500,000 spent in 2019, and puts him on par with the big players in Washington DC, Facebook and Google.
“In 2019, they spent almost pennies on lobbying. And now they’ve spent the fourth largest tech company lobbying Congress,” said Sarah Briner, director of research at Open Secrets.
“It’s just monumental.”
Tech companies trying to sway lawmakers typically move from doing nothing to hiring big names like former members of Congress with lots of connections, Bryner said.
For TikTok, that meant bringing in two former Republican senators — Trent Lott of Mississippi and John Brough Sr. of Louisiana — as well as 40 other lobbyists last year, according to Open Secrets.
“Such new dishes [like TikTok] often like to skip the introductory stage and go straight to the big guns, so we’re seeing a really explosive increase in their spending,” said Breiner. “Nothing spurs lobbying more than the threat of regulation.”
Looking for an app for livelihood and personal connections
Meanwhile, many creators in the US say they don’t want the app to go live.
Ashley Capps, who has over 200,000 followers on TikTok, said she thinks lawmakers should be able to work with the company to create adequate safeguards for users.
Capps lives in Florida and has been a TikTok user since 2019. She said her livelihood is now dependent on the app because that’s how she gets new customers for her business. She creates videos that she says can help people “make the world a better place,” from gardening to documenting research to staying safe online.
But it also helped her connect with others outside of the business.
“TikTok saved my life in a way… It helped me understand that I’m not alone,” Capps said. “And over the past few years, while on TikTok, I’ve learned more about life and other people’s lives than I ever have anywhere else.”
She urged her followers to write letters to all members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging them not to shut down TikTok.
And on Thursday, Capps will be closely following the hearing.
“Oddly enough, I will be streaming this live on my TikTok,” she said.