Why TikTok Creators Are Leaving the App

Is this the beginning of the end of TikTok?

griffin johnson josh richards tiktok
Griffin Johnson/Josh Richards/TikTok
Griffin Johnson/Josh Richards/TikTok

Who knew that a social media app mainly used by teens to post videos of themselves doing viral dances and watering their pet frogs would become a pawn in the ongoing -- and steadily worsening -- US-China trade war? After months of investigations into TikTok's privacy parameters (or, really, the lack thereof), the US is making overtures about banning the app altogether -- threatening what India has already done -- and this week, some of its top American creators have announced they're switching platforms. 

On Tuesday, Josh Richards, whose lip-syncing videos have racked up some millions of followers, announced that he and a cadre of other TikTok influencers would be moving their talents, and hopefully their follower counts, over to TikTok competitor Triller, another short-form video app that's seen a recent uptick in popularity. "After seeing the US and other countries' governments' concerns over TikTok -- and given my responsibility to protect and lead my followers and other influencers -- I followed my instincts as an entrepreneur and made it my mission to find a solution," Richards said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fellow TikTokers Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck, and Anthony Reeves are also signing on to Triller as advisors and equity shareholders, as are a few high-profile celebs including Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne. Richards, Johnson, Beck, and Reeves have a combined nearly 50 million followers, which makes this the largest effort by TikTok creators to migrate their followings away from the app. 

Though the kind of user data that the app collects doesn't look much different than what, say, Facebook mines from us, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, based in China, has been the subject of mounting user privacy concerns due to the Chinese government's penchant for pressuring companies to turn over private information for "national security reasons." The app claims American user data is stored in its US and Singapore facilities, and thus untouchable by China, but whispers of a potential ban have been plaguing the app for weeks, with many users making contingency plans, telling their followers where else to find them on social media and where they'll be moving their content to in the future. Pretty soon, we may be nostalgically watching YouTube compilations of popular TikToks just as we watch classic Vines today, dreaming of a more innocent past. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.