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Influencer exits. Ban threats. Can TikTok weather the storm?

Wendy Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

TikTok has been a lucrative part of 17-year-old Katie Feeney's life.

The Maryland teenager has 4 million followers on the popular app who enjoy watching her videos of opening up packages and performing dance moves. In a month, Feeney can make $12,000 on brand deals and promotions. But she fears that may soon dry up.

"I was really upset because I always knew that at some point TikTok probably wouldn't last, but I never thought it would be this soon," Feeney said. "Right when I'm starting to gain a huge following. ... It's super disappointing."

Feeney is among a growing number of influencers who are worried about TikTok's future as the social video app faces growing scrutiny from the U.S. government, rising competition from rivals such as Facebook and the defection of top level creators.

TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has become a formidable force in the entertainment industry. The app launched in the U.S. in 2018 after ByteDance bought lip-synching app Musical.ly.

Music artists such as Lil Nas X have used the platform to build momentum for their songs to become hits. Talent agencies discover rising stars through the app, and celebrities have posted trending dance videos to better connect with fans. TikTok remains the most installed app in the world, according to San Francisco mobile research firm Sensor Tower.

 

But the company's rapid growth and success has also made it a target -- and a pawn in the Trump administration's widening trade conflict with China. American government officials have considered banning the app, and two senators asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether TikTok disclosed private information about U.S. consumers to the Chinese government, which the company has denied.

TikTok is showing no signs of retreating. The company has been on a massive hiring spree, saying it plans to add 10,000 people to its U.S. staff over the next three years. The company employs roughly 1,400 people in the U.S., with its largest office in Culver City.

"People in L.A. consider it to be the cool kids' place," said Eugene Lee, chief executive of ChannelMeter, a San Francisco-based business that provides analytics and monetization for social video creators. "But that said, I think at the back of their minds, they're probably all wondering, 'Will we have a job in six months?'"

Rivals have begun to smell blood. Facebook-owned Instagram will launch a similar feature to TikTok called "Reels" in the U.S. next month. And L.A.-based Triller, which operates a music video app, has lured popular TikTok creators to its platform.

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