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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Local businesses, TikTok creators weigh in on potential ban

    Jeffrey Zapata, owner of JBS Barber Spa in New London, looks at his phone for the video he placed on TikTok to promote his business. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Jeffrey Zapata, owner of JBS Barber Spa in New London, shows the video of barber Daniel Benavides giving a client a haircut that he placed on TikTok to promote his business. Zapata selects music and shoots video with a camera and cell phone. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Donald Brown, who goes by the artist name “Memory,” uses TikTok to advertise his business, Memories Ink tattoo parlor in the Waterford Crystal Mall.

    Brown said because its much easier to make videos on TikTok than it is on Instagram or Facebook, he uses TikTok to create the videos he puts on the other two social media apps that attract more business for him.

    As the U.S. Senate considers legislation that could lead to a ban of the popular social media app due to cybersecurity concerns, we spoke with southeastern Connecticut businesses and a local influencer who reported mixed feelings about the potential for TikTok to go away for good.

    Brown said he could find another video editing site, so his business would not be affected by a TikTok ban.

    “It would make it a little less convenient,” Brown said. “Instagram is probably our most important advertising site. Tik Tok isn’t as local. We’re seen, but it’s like a worldwide thing. It’s not as easy to locally connect as it is on Facebook or Instagram.”

    The short-form content creation and proliferation app currently boasts around 150 million United States users. TikTok targets them with an endless stream of 3-second- to 10-minute-long videos that it bases on users’ specific interests.

    Since its release in 2016, TikTok has attracted users from virtually every demographic, along with content creators looking to capitalize on the app’s diverse and exponentially growing audience to promote individual success or that of a business ― earning money, self-gratification or fame in the process.

    The legislation, passed March 13 by the House, would give TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, six months to sell the app to another owner.

    If it chooses not to do so, the U.S. government would impose a ban TikTok. The U.S. Senate has not announced when it will vote on the bill, but President Joe Biden has made clear he would sign it into law it if it were to pass the Senate.

    “Right now, the Senate currently has not taken the bill up,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District said Wednesday. “But I think it has stimulated a lot of active speculation, that this could happen even without Senate passage.”

    Attracting new customers

    Jeffrey Zapata, owner of JBS Barber Spa, said TikTok offers an alternative to having to pay people “a lot of money” to make his businesses’ promotional videos, which he was doing before he started using TikTok about a year and a half ago. He owns locations on Bank Street in New London and in Waterford’s Crystal Mall.

    Most of the videos on the JBS TikTok page depict the shop’s grooming services, highlighted by a presidential service with a shoulder massage, shave, haircut and face exfoliation.

    On Thursday, on the second-floor of his Bank Street location, it took Zapata less than two minutes to select a song, pair it with a phone video of one of his workers cutting a customer’s hair, add effects and post it on TikTok and other social media sites.

    “To be honest with you, I love TikTok,” the owner said between plucking hairs from a customer’s beard.

    Zapata said TikTok has been his biggest driver for attracting new customers, with at least 20 people watching the videos within 20 minutes. If TikTok is banned, he said he would miss that, in addition to having to go back to paying editors to make his videos.

    Rich Cochrane of East Lyme, who calls himself “The Barefoot Motivator,” is not a business owner per se, because he doesn’t currently make any money from the 70 one-minute-long videos he’s posted across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

    The videos show him doing motivational speeches and running barefoot around Black Point and the boardwalk in his hometown of Niantic.

    “Right now, I think I’m self-sufficent to where my YouTube channel is growing and I don’t really need to do anything,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “But the TikTok, it seems more people react to that for some reason.”

    He said his goal is to get to 1,000 followers on YouTube to qualify as a content creator, then grow his channel from there and start making money from his videos.

    And while he said his channel would survive without TikTok, he hopes it doesn’t get banned, because he “doesn’t really see a reason for doing it.”

    Courtney stresses cybersecurity issues

    “I understand the small business side that is there,” Courtney said. “But the bill provides a mechanism that allows the app to continue, which is to divest to a new owner. And I think it would be a very attractive acquisition for new owners.”

    He said the bill does not have language about restricting the content of TikTok users.

    “This was about, basically surveillance, not freedom of expression,” Courtney said.

    Courtney, who voted with the majority of representatives in favor of the proposed law, said a briefing that was provided to him and other representatives before the vote contained reports from government agencies that track issues of cybersecurity in the country.

    He said the agencies agreed that the app “posed a real threat to U.S. citizens in terms of being surveilled.”

    While Courtney admitted there is an apparent lack of evidence to support ByteDance actively spying on United States users of its app, the agencies drew their conclusions largely from its track record of operating as an arm of the Chinese government, which he said has enabled it to conduct surveillance on its people.

    Courtney cited two examples of the app being used by Chinese leaders ― a recent government election in Taiwan during which it was used to spread misinformation to the Taiwanese voting population; and a lengthy report conducted by the independent, non-partisan Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which found that ByteDance and Huawei Technologies had worked closely with the China’s Communist Party to censor and surveil Uighur Muslims in the county’s western region of Xinjiang.

    Recalling the day of his “yes” vote, Courtney said he met in his Washington office with Tibetan officials who reported their relatives in Tibet would not touch the app because they’re aware every individual in the Tibetan province is subject to surveillance from ByteDance.

    After the vote, he said he had received “some cluster of phone calls” criticizing his support of the bill.

    “And frankly, that happens all the time with legislation we’re voting on,” Courtney said regarding the email and phone campaign. “And that’s something you pay attention to.”

    Asked whether the legislation would allow for the app to be sold to another Chinese owner, Courtney said that any transaction to purchase the app would “be looked at by the market, the press and the government to make sure it really conforms to the intent of the bill.”

    d.drainville@theday.com

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