Washington is coming after TikTok — so where are all the angry users?

In an unprecedented move, a piece of legislation aimed at imposing a potential ban on TikTok swiftly passed through the House of Representatives, leaving the social media giant and its 170 million American users scrambling for a response. Despite TikTok’s attempt to mobilize its vast user base to lobby against the bill, the cries of opposition have been surprisingly muted as the Senate gears up for a decision that could dramatically alter the platform’s fate in the United States.

This time around, members of both the House and Senate have reported a noticeable dip in communications from the platform’s users. Even though TikTok pushed notifications encouraging users to reach out to their senators, the platform’s usual fervor seems to have dimmed. A note attached to these notifications advised users, “Please be respectful,” hinting at a more tempered approach to its advocacy efforts.

The lack of uproar from TikTok’s predominantly young and passionate user base may be indicative of more than just a strategic shift by the company. The platform’s design, with its focus on entertaining content delivered through a personalized, non-linear feed, may not be the most effective medium for disseminating urgent news or rallying collective action around political issues.

Indeed, the conversations about the legislative attack on TikTok have been disjointed across the platform. Some users have attempted to make their voices heard by flooding the comment sections of political figures, while others have turned to creating content that addresses the bill and its implications. Over the weekend, following the passage of the bill in the House, notable feedback emerged in the comments on videos posted by President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, which recently made its TikTok debut. Users expressed their discontent, highlighting contradictions in the platform’s use for political campaigning versus its everyday use.

The legislative assault on TikTok came as a surprise, rattling many of the platform’s content creators who depend on TikTok for their livelihood. A group of creators even staged a protest at the U.S. Capitol, although their efforts appeared to have little influence on the legislative process.

While the tension escalates in Washington, the unique challenges posed by TikTok’s design and user engagement strategies become evident. The app’s algorithmically driven content delivery system makes it difficult for unified, platform-wide mobilizations, especially on fast-moving political developments. This, combined with a general fatigue over the issue and the intricate line between authentic news and conspiracy theories on the platform, has diluted the potential for a cohesive user response.

Moreover, TikTok’s recent changes to its hashtag tracking tool have further obscured the visibility of collective user reactions to the bill, making it challenging to gauge the overall sentiment on the platform regarding the legislation.

Despite the bill’s significant implications for TikTok and its vast user base, the majority of whom are not content creators but rather passive viewers, mobilizing a large-scale protest has proven challenging. The platform’s characteristic for rapid content consumption contrasts starkly with the slow legislative processes, leaving many users disengaged from the unfolding political drama.

As the debate over TikTok’s future in the U.S. intensifies, the question of how to effectively leverage the platform’s user base as a political force remains unanswered. The silent majority of TikTok users, who have yet to speak up, may well determine the outcome of this high-stakes battle.

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