Parker Pannell woke up on Thursday to a frantic call from a friend saying that views and likes on TikTok had suddenly reset to zero. The 16-year-old, who has 2.1 million followers on TikTok, panicked, immediately checked the app and started livestreaming to his fans. Perhaps, Pannell thought, this signaled TikTok was going down permanently.
“I went live and was just telling them, ‘Hey I’m not sure what’s going on, but please do me a favor and follow me on Instagram and subscribe to my YouTube,” Pannell told CNN Business. “Everybody was like ‘Parker, I love your videos. I’m going to miss you.’ Everyone was in panic mode.”
Pannell, along with others on the short-form video platform, suspected the disappearing likes and view counts had something to do with reports that TikTok could be banned in the US, which has stoked concern among creators that months or years of building a following could be for nothing. “I’m scared because I put so much hard work into this platform for almost two years now. It’s obviously difficult to see that go,” said Pannell, who has significantly smaller followings on YouTube and Instagram.
The disappearing views on the app on Thursday turned out to be a glitch, which TikTok said appeared to have been caused by “higher traffic than normal on our servers in Virginia, causing temporary service disruptions.”
But a ban continues to be a possibility. In the days since the Trump administration signaled it was “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese-owned platforms, the app has exploded with a mix of fears and funny videos about the potential action. Adding fuel to the fire is India’s recent decision to ban TikTok, where some of the platform’s top stars live, as well as other popular Chinese apps, saying they pose a “threat to sovereignty and integrity.” However, several security experts have been more cautious about that assessment.
Some creators took the opportunity to inform their followers about a possible ban, filming videos of themselves featuring news articles on the topic, while others expressed skepticism that a takedown would happen at all. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too, Laura,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News earlier this week. “I don’t want to get out in front of the President [Donald Trump], but it’s something we’re looking at.”
But true to the spirit of TikTok, there was plenty of comedy, too. In one video set against sound from a popular fire drill scene in The Office, a TikTok creator imitates other influencers and users in her comments panicking about Thursday’s glitch and a potential ban, while Michael Scott’s voice screams “Everyone stay calm” in the background.
Users also mused about the political reasons for a ban or poked fun at President Trump. One creator pretended to type a letter “to the government or whoever is trying to ban TikTok” asking for it not to happen. Like others on the platform, she floated the idea that Trump is considering this ban because he is “mad” TikTok users trolled the president’s campaign by reserving tickets to his rally without intending to go.
In a video with text on screen saying “Me trying to convince Trump to let us keep TikTok,” a creator builds a brick wall and rubs her face in orange Cheetos, an apparent reference to Trump’s border wall and his purported use of self-tanner. It’s captioned “Please Mr. Cheeto Man” with a praying hands emoji.
Despite the jokes, a ban could have major consequences for the platform’s creators, especially those who are trying to turn it into a lucrative career through sponsored content deals, selling merchandise and other sources of revenue. One TikTok star, Keegan Ousley, said the threat of a ban is “frightening” and that it makes him worried about his future in social media.
“I have worked most of my life to secure a following in social media,” said 17-year-old Ousley, who runs a TikTok account called @CallMeNotSoCarson with more than 400,000 followers. “I hope that the US takes into consideration the people who produce content on the app as a means of income before making any rash decisions to ban the app.” Ousley earns money from artists for using their music in his TikTok videos. He also gets paid when people download apps he promotes in his TikTok bio.
If TikTok were to disappear in the US, Ousley said he hopes that his supporters would follow him to other social platforms.
As a precaution, some influencers are already encouraging their fans to follow them on social networks including Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and even Reddit. Several TikTokers have updated their bios with “IN CASE OF TIKTOK BAN — follow me on YouTube & INSTA” or “IF TIK/TOK GETS BANNED MY IG/TWITTER [handle name].”
Christine Juhas, whose TikTok account @christines_snaps has more than 3.4 million followers, said if there are indeed issues with user privacy and information not being protected on the app, she hopes it will be “addressed and fixed.”
“I’d love to continue making comedic videos on the platform, without any concern for mine or others’ privacy,” she said. “I think it’s important to take a break and laugh for a moment during such an uncertain and serious time in the world.”