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With TikTok's future in doubt, Wilmington, North Carolina companies could lose out

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A bill that could effectively ban TikTok in the United States was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 13.

Bill HR7521 addresses potential national security concerns related to the social media platform attributed to TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance. The law stipulates that ByteDance must sell TikTok within 165 days of entry into force, otherwise it will face a ban from US app stores.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 352-65 and received the support of 13 of 14 U.S. House representatives in North Carolina. Proponents include Democratic House Speaker Jeff Jackson, who faced particular backlash for his vote in favor of the bill.

More: From ghosts to good food, here's a list of popular Wilmington content creators on TikTok

Jackson, who has 2.2 million followers on TikTok, apologized to his followers in a short video on March 16. While some commentators agreed that his apology provided clarity about his voting decision, others criticized Jackson for what they perceived as hypocrisy.

The passage of the bill in the House of Representatives has sparked debate among numerous other app users in North Carolina. Three Wilmington business owners and content creators shared insights into how the bill could directly impact their livelihoods.

Content creator and social media manager says TikTok was “life-changing” because it supported her son's medical treatment

Kylie Perkins is the only source of income that supports her family. Perkins has more than 150,000 followers on the platform TikTok, where she generates revenue from views and brand sponsorships. She also runs a social media management company and publishes online content for other clients.

“It's a way to make money for my family … so I post every day,” Perkins said, adding that she gets paid about $1 per thousand views.

After moving from Alaska to Wilmington to find better medical care for her son, Perkins said TikTok was instrumental in funding his treatment and connecting her family to a supportive online community.

“My son was recently diagnosed with a very rare form of epilepsy. I was able to use TikTok when my son was in the hospital. He had over 100 seizures,” Perkins said. “That brought in over $1,000 for our family to cover our son's medication and all the things that come with it…medical bills, and that was just from a video.”

Aside from using TikTok as a source of income, Perkins called the platform's ability to educate and connect others “life-changing.”

“I can use (TikTok) not only as education for my son's syndrome, but also as income to support my son's syndrome,” Perkins said. “And more than that, it's a place where we can all come together and the community is like no other…TikTok has brought so much positivity and support and people (to) my corner.”

A TikTok ban would have a significant impact on Perkins and her family.

“I would lose three revenue streams if I lost this app,” Perkins said. “It would really affect us… it would really affect my family.”

From followers to customers: Wilmington real estate agent turns TikTok engagement into $4.1 million in sales

Caroline Holman, a Wilmington-based real estate agent with The Costin Group, started using TikTok to post real estate-related content about a year and a half ago.

Last June, Holman began creating and promoting her Wilmington Guides, free PDFs that introduce the Wilmington area and its attractions. Since then, her account has gained almost 24,000 followers.

“I've sold $4.1 million worth of real estate just (to) the people who found me on TikTok (and that's not even counting my regular outside business,” Holman said, adding that those sales brought in about $70,000 in revenue.”Those people would never have found me.”

Losing the app would result in a significant pay cut and the loss of an extensive portfolio of content for Holman.

“That would essentially mean a pay cut,” Holman said. “Even if people don’t want to see my stuff now and buy and sell, it’s because of the fact that I have all the content on this site and it’s very searchable.”

Holman said she is still attracting new customers through older content — something that would ultimately change with an app ban.

“I still get comments and references from videos I posted a year ago,” Holman said. “In the long run, having my face in as many places as possible is so beneficial. Without TikTok, it would just take away that big connection.”

Wilmington restaurant owner's creative TikTok campaign is drawing customers beyond local borders

A Wilmington restaurant owner said the social media platform has been a powerful tool for attracting customers in and outside of Wilmington.

Corey Scott and his wife Phallin are co-owners of On Thyme Restaurant at 918 Castle St. The On Thyme TikTok account has gained 56.5 thousand followers since they first posted content about 10 months ago, Scott said.

“Now…on our Saturdays we have more people visiting us (from out of town),” Scott said. “The whole thing happens through social media and TikTok.”

On May 4, On Thyme is hosting a second R&B vs. Hip Hop Old School Party at the Greenfield Lake Ampitheater, a venue that seats about 1,200 people and has already sold more than half of its available tickets. When On Thyme first hosted the event in October 2023, the 350 available tickets sold out in one day, Scott said.

“This grew big because of TikTok,” Scott said. “It’s all organic, it’s because of social media.”

About two months ago, Scott and his wife opened Brunch Thyme in the Brooklyn Arts District, 1124 N. Fourth St. The Wilmington business owners also used TikTok to promote their new venue.

Through social media, On Thyme combines comedy and food to promote his restaurant. Losing the app “would take the fun out of it,” Scott said.

“I think it would have a big impact,” Scott said. “When people watch (our) videos, they think, 'Oh my God, I want to go there.' It’s not just the food, it’s (the) interactions with customers, a whole bunch of different things that come with TikTok that attract people.”

So what would happen next?

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not said whether he would bring the bill to a vote, President Joe Biden said in early March that he would sign the bill into law if it passed successfully, according to a USA Today report Senate.

Holman said she wants lawmakers to understand the potential impact of a ban.

“It’s our livelihood,” Holman said. “I suspect those voting on the ban don’t see the impact it has.”

While TikTok's future remains uncertain, Wilmington's creators are preparing for the worst-case scenario. Holman, Scott and Perkins said they would put more energy into Instagram and Facebook if the House bill becomes law.

“We would have to focus on other things,” Holman said, adding that she urges her customers to follow her on Instagram as well. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

With her background in social media management, Perkins believes a similar app would soon replace TikTok if the ban goes into effect.

“If they actually do a US-based TikTok, people will say they won’t do it, but they will,” Perkins said. “If TikTok goes away, there will be something else, and I will be… one of the first to post something there because I think people will follow suit.”

She urged other social media platforms to consider expanding their content creation resources.

“Meta…this is your time to shine,” Perkins said of the company that runs Facebook. “This is a great opportunity for meta to come together and say, 'Let's be there for our people when this happens,' and one way to be on the people's side is to offer a better creator program. “