Tik(tok) Tik(tok)…Boom Goes the Creator Economy


Check-in time: how are we all doing? Not that great, huh? Physically, mentally, emotionally…we all need a No Bones Year, preferably until either the end of this election cycle or, worst-case scenario, be placed in a medically-induced coma until we can be slipped in amongst the cargo on a freight ship headed for a country that didn’t just vote to overthrow democracy in favor of an authoritarian dictatorship run by a broke criminal slash failed reality show host.

If you’re feeling a nagging sense that you’ve heard this one before, don’t worry, that’s not the long COVID symptoms you’re experiencing. I mean, it might be, but the deja vu is completely external. We are preparing for yet another Wrestlemania matchup no one asked for, especially if you try to imagine the two candidates in sparkling spandex. The 2020 election is now considered its own form of collective trauma, so it’s no wonder you keep trying to suppress it like you did for that one Thanksgiving when your criminal uncle stole money out of your wallet to pay his bail bonds before getting drunk and groping you under the table while grandpa announced that he’d squandered the family inheritance funding a genocide. You know the one.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re just really good at disassociation as a coping mechanism, and haven’t been walking around trying to think of the perfect portmanteau of dread and deja-vu? (Dreadja-vu? Deja-dread? Let’s workshop it.) Even the most politically indifferent among us have felt in recent days that the universe was serving, “The more things change, the more they give Harlan Ellison’s ghost a hard-on.” (JK, he would probably sue 2024 for copyright infringement.)


Because get out your sad trombone noises, we’re bringing back 2020’s TikTok ban! Remember? We did this one already, under the other guy? Who now, for whatever reason, is in full support of a Chinese parent company operating its cash-rich/privacy-poor social media app here in America? It’s just like before, except now the opposite; with Trump opposing the officious-sounding “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” and President Biden signaling he’d be down to sign if the bill passes tomorrow in Congress

Republican lawmakers pushed through the bill in the name of national security, saying that forcing TikTok to either be sold to an American buyer or be banned nationwide is to “protect the national security of the United States from the threat posed by foreign adversary controlled applications.” The bill doesn’t do much to clarify which countries or what apps are considered a threat: a later reference to “other firms controlled by a foreign adversary” could — depending on the coin flip in November — be applied to any country outside the US.

And look, I can see the argument about the privacy risk, I really do. Bytedance’s founder Zhang Yiming has been called “a mouthpiece” for China’s Communist Party in a DOJ filing during Trump’s presidency; last year, he was accused by a former employee of bribing the former deputy director of the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party Lu Wei in return for preferential treatment. Wei began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2019 for accepting bribes, though Yiming was never officially named on the other side of the money deal.

So while we can’t say FOR SURE that the former CEO and founder of the company that owns TikTok was the one to bribe Lei, we CAN say, definitively, that TikTok’s privacy practices are sketchy at best. Should it worry us that the most downloaded app in the world that’s used by a little under half our country’s population requires a Pepe Silvia-style board to track the exponential number of allegations of security failures, privacy violations, illegal handling of children’s data and…yikes…crypto mining(??) made by two administrations’ worth of FBI, DOJ, federal prosecutors and regulatory committees? And that’s just here in America? (India and England would also like to have a word.) Sure. Yes. I mean, weird that it took that spy balloon being shot down before people started to care about TikTok beyond the dangers of TidePod challenges, but obviously this is very concerning, privacy-wise. 

Should we also be worried that the algorithm developed by Chinese engineers might be pushing out disinformation in the lead-up to the watershed (and possibly Waterloo) of democracy here in the U.S.? Yeah, that’s why I don’t go on the FYP. 

But it’s actually equally concerning that state and possibly federal government officials think the solution is to make TikTok illegal in the US, because now we’ve just swapped an international privacy issue for a fundamentally domestic one: freedom.

You know, we have these core tenets about our rights here as Americans, and we instill them into our children at a very young age. The TikTok ban would certainly curtail all of them. The unalienable right for TRUTH at a time when mainstream media outlets are falling like dominoes and those that remain fail to accurately report on issues as fundamental as the ongoing, American-sanctioned humanitarian crisis in Gaza. For JUSTICE, at a time when conservative judges and lawmakers across the nation and at the highest levels of the Supreme Court are deciding just whose bodies have autonomy. (Hint: it’s the same group that brought you 2020’s Oscars!)

Perhaps most importantly, at least as espoused by the same people trying to ban an entire social media platform across the entire country, the fundamental right for citizens’ Pursuit of Happiness, the American Way. Which is just a churched-up way of saying “Late-stage capitalism, baby!”

That the bill would not take into account how much of last year’s approximate $250 billion creator economy was generated on the platform is such a perfect encapsulation of everything the government gets wrong about the industry; in the underground mole-schools of the future, it should be required reading. I want our translucent great-grandchildren to raise their radiation-roughened skin flippers to ask why Joe Biden’s White House bothered briefing influencers on the president’s State of the Union address in order to (ostensibly) reach the increasingly large percentage of the voting population made up of disaffected youth, only to turn around a few days later and signal a willingness to obliterate their means to influence those voters, to say nothing of how they’d then support themselves.  

In other news, TikTok just announced some major expansions for several of their monetization programs: this includes sunsetting the problematic Creator Fund in favor of a new Creator Rewards that incentivizes users to make longer videos, the lowering of eligibility criteria needed to earn money making Effects, the growth into 33 new markets. Most pivotal though may be the Creator Academy, which will hopefully go a long way toward breaking open the black box of earned revenue for creators. So far, it’s been literally impossible to determine the “average” earnings of any individual on the platform; TikTokers can earn money on the app through literally dozens of sources, some of which the app tracks (Gifts, music profit-sharing, Creator funds, partnerships brokered on-platform), some of which it does not (brand and sponsorship deals, which makes up the majority of TikTok’s largest earners’ income.) ZipRecruiter puts the average TikToker at an annual salary of $131,874, weighted heavily by the D’Amelios of the world. Explodingtopics.com claims that even though half the creators on the platform make under $15,000, the actual median for influencers is somewhere between $15-25k. But you know, take this all with a grain of salt. Or a whole cup of it.

Insane as it may sound, it’s Trump who — for all his inarticulateness and u-turns on the matter — might be channeling the zeitgeist when he told NBC this week, “There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it. There are a lot of users.” Because let’s face it, there’s one song to which the former president’s ears may be more attuned than Biden’s: “Money, Money, Money.”


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This week on the Reactorverse Podcast, we’re thrilled to welcome the dynamic duo behind pReview’d, Adam and Jay, to the show. With their roots planted in theater and comedy, they reveal the journey that led them to creating their YouTube channel and talk about their unique approach that puts humor at the forefront.

They’ll also reflect on the sense of community and support they’ve garnered through their audience, who have stuck with them as they survived algorithim changes, a global pandemic, and the recent SAG strike. Be sure to subscribe to the Passionfruit YouTube channel so you don’t miss an episode!

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