Hannah Williams founder of Salary Transparent Street
Nhu Nguyen @Brand Nhu Creative

Salary Transparent Street: How a TikTok Ban Would Affect Creators and Activists

In this op-ed, the founder of Salary Transparent Street says a TikTok ban would harm the 1.2 million people who follow her channel to get information about salary transparency.

As a TikTok creator dedicated to ensuring people have the information they need to advocate for a fair wage, I personally stand to lose a lot from a TikTok ban. But I’m more concerned about what is compromised when a social media platform is banned: our First Amendment right to speak freely, to express ourselves, and to access information. We can’t let this happen. 

“How much do you make?” has always been a taboo question and for a couple of years after I graduated from college, I fell for that lie. I wondered how everyone else learned how to price themselves correctly, navigate negotiating salaries, and advocate for their rights when no one was discussing these things openly. But, a year ago, I realized these conversations had to be normalized. I went viral overnight on TikTok by asking strangers on the streets of Washington, DC, how much money they make. Three weeks later, I quit my six-figure, cushy data analyst job to become a full-time creator, dedicated to closing persistent wage gaps that marginalize women, minorities, workers with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community.

For the first six months of Salary Transparent Street’s existence, many of the videos I posted on TikTok earned over one million views. Off the bat, it was obvious that TikTok has a uniquely powerful reach for a social media app. It allowed regular people like myself the chance to speak their minds, go viral, and make a difference.

Now, my senator, Mark Warner of Virginia, has introduced a bill that would give the government the power to ban TikTok for everyone in America as well as almost any company or product owned by a “foreign adversary” that the secretary of commerce deems a national security risk. This ban threatens the very platform that has helped me build a community of millions of people committed to closing the wage gap — a systemic problem that has haunted this country for decades.

SocialSphere poll from March 2023 showed that 71% of Gen Zers (people 18 to 26) have an active TikTok account. I was born in 1996, and depending on which source you consult, I’m either a millennial or Gen Z. Either way, I’m part of the generation that consumes content for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and TikTok delivers. TikTok content is not only dynamic — blending text, music, visuals, and effects — it also can be educational. You can learn about science, politics, history, and life hacks, like “things you didn’t know until you were in your 30s!” TikTok’s editing tools are also what enabled me to break into this field. Before early 2022, I had never even created content because none of the tools were accessible. You often needed an expensive camera and knowledge of complex editing software. TikTok removed all those barriers and allowed me to bring my creative visions to life without having to leave the app. 

If this TikTok ban goes through, all of that disappears. Because despite what our geriatric leaders might think, platforms are not totally interchangeable. I can’t simply transfer my followers and the accounts I follow to another app, and I can’t simply reconstitute the communities I’ve formed through TikTok. In that same vein, the disappearance of my account will also affect my followers, who rely on our content to learn about different careers, earning potential, pay transparency laws, and workers’ rights. 

Of course, I want my data to be secure and my privacy protected, but banning TikTok isn’t the solution. Billed as a plan to keep Americans’ data safe from the Chinese government, experts across the political spectrum have explained why this ban could not only exacerbate the very problems Congress thinks it’s solving but would also “be an entirely unAmerican, undemocratic, and inappropriate response to an unproven risk that the Chinese-owned platform will share users’ data with Beijing for nefarious purposes,” as journalist Chris Stokel-Walker argued in The Washington Post

And let’s be real: TikTok is in no way the only social media company to act like our private data is their personal piggy bank. InstagramYouTube, and Twitter have all gotten in hot water for very similar invasive practices over the past few years. The only difference is that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company and these other platforms are not.

I’ll never forget voting in my first presidential election in 2016, the one where Cambridge Analytica, a political advertising firm, illicitly collected personal information belonging to millions of Facebook users in an effort to help Donald Trump win the election. And, more recently, I remember running to TikTok after Roe v. Wade was overturned because, according to a report from WIRED, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, suppressed some abortion-related content, making it harder for people to find accurate information. (A Meta spokesperson told the publication that the company did not change its moderation policies in response to Roe being overturned.)

My point is that TikTok is not the only app we should be concerned about. And if the true issue at hand was “data privacy,” our leaders would be suggesting real, comprehensive privacy protections and surveillance reform, not a bill that would target one single app and give our government increased control over what information we can and can’t consume.

Congress needs to hear from all of us that young people — also known as the second largest potential voting bloc in the country — will not stand for this type of xenophobic government censorship and that we will not be supporting any member’s bid for reelection if they pass such extreme and unconstitutional legislation. Please join me in calling your congressperson and telling them to vote against any TikTok ban that comes to the floor. Our right to free speech depends on it. 

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