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Congress could soon ban Tiktok-- what does this mean for Alabama users, Bama Rush?


TikTok might soon be gone for good. Congress is currently debating whether the social media platform will continue to be available to Alabama users and others in the country. This follows allegations that the site threatens U.S. national security due to its Chinese ownership, with allegations of connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok has gained huge popularity since its launch in 2016, particularly during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Despite its initial reputation as a dance app, the platform covers a wide expanse of content, including recipes, news, book recommendations, communities of celebrity fans, all content taking the form of short-form video.

Professor Jessica Maddox is a social media expert at the University of Alabama. She has been following the recent events in Congress. Maddox said that the rhetoric surrounding TikTok in the media is impacting the app’s popularity.

“TikTok is losing the public opinion game," she explained. "Even people that like using TikTok do believe on some level that it is an app being manipulated by the Chinese government.”

Nevertheless, TikTok has seen continued success, with Backlinko reporting over 100 million monthly TikTok users in America alone. The site is particularly popular with the 18-25 demographic.

Going forward with this ban will also have a direct impact on students at the University of Alabama who have found success in the TikTok spotlight. The phenomenon of “Bama Rush” has become a huge event on the platform in 2021 and 2022, amassing millions of viewers worldwide. Focused on sorority recruitment – “Rush” – in the fall, many UA students have gained significant social media following posting content of their recruitment experiences. This has resulted in sponsorships and brand partnerships, bringing in a significant source of income for some individuals.

“Bama Rush has become a staple of TikTok,” said Maddox. “When it came back this year for its ‘second season’ it showed that it is a TikTok event that is here to stay. It’s attracted a lot of attention and has become people’s favorite part of TikTok.”

This is not the first time student influencers have faced challenges using the platform. A collection of universities across the U.S. have recently banned the platform on their Wi-Fi networks. Cybersecurity issues and fear of Chinese spying have been cited as the primary reason, according to NBC. However, students can continue to use the app on private Wi-Fi networks and on cellular data.

TikTok is also gaining popularity as a tool for learning, as well as engaging with politics. Many young people primarily collect news updates from the platform, according to Maddox. It also has huge success in terms of marketing, and helping small businesses gain traction.

“I believe we are doing young people, students, individuals just starting out in their career, a disservice if we can’t train them in the best practices how to use and understand TikTok,” said Professor Maddox.

Despite allegations that the app poses a threat to American users, Maddox highlighted the lack of proof that has been presented to the public.

“I believe the government, or CFIUS – the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States – do need to provide some evidence backing their claims and concerns,” she explained. “I think if there is legitimate concern, I think people deserve to know about it.”

Maddox stated that without the physical evidence to support it, the ban appeared to be a “massive overreach” that would have notable implications on free speech online.

Maddox said she believes that should the ban go ahead, many of its users would likely shift to YouTube “Shorts”. The platform works similarly to TikTok, sharing content in the form of short form video.

Despite her expertise in the field, Maddox stated that it was hard to predict the course of action that would be taken, or the timeframe surrounding the ban. In the coming weeks, she, like thousands of other Americans, will be watching the actions of Congress closely. The future of TikTok rests in their hands.

Poppy Jacobs is an international student from England interning at Alabama Public Radio. Poppy majors in Political Science and Philosophy. She plans to pursue a career in journalism after completing her studies. In her free time, Poppy enjoys watching sports, particularly soccer (“football”) and Formula 1 motorsports, as well as reading, working out and travelling with her friends.

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