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As the U.S. moves closer to a TikTok ban, influencers in Canada worry

Al-Asala Dabke Group is a London, Ont.-based dance group that has approximately 1.3 million followers on TikTok. (Submitted by Al-Asala Dabke group - image credit)
Al-Asala Dabke Group is a London, Ont.-based dance group that has approximately 1.3 million followers on TikTok. (Submitted by Al-Asala Dabke group - image credit)

As the United States moves closer to banning TikTok, influencers in Canada who have large American audiences are worried they'll lose those eyeballs and the accompanying revenue.

TikTok says its video app is used by hundreds of millions around the world.

In Canada, research released by Toronto Metropolitan University indicates that of all social media platforms, TikTok had the largest increase in adult users in 2022 compared to 2020. With much of that audience based in the U.S., some influencers worry they'll have to build their following from the ground up.

"A large portion of our following comes from the U.S., although we are very Canadian at core," said Wasef Yasin, a performer with the London, Ont.-based Al-Asala Dabke Group, which boasts more than a million followers on TikTok.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed for China-based tech company ByteDance to either sell TikTok within 180 days or the social media app would face a ban, which would make it illegal for app stores and web servers in the U.S. to host, maintain, distribute or feature the site.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate, then signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Ban could set group '10 steps back'

A ban would mean Al-Asala Dabke would lose a large portion of its audience on TikTok, Yasin said. The group would have to explore other social media platforms, he added, "which will require us to take 10 steps backwards. Then hopefully [we will] work twice as hard to regain that following."

Dabke is a popular folk dance in areas of the Middle East, including among Palestinians and in Lebanon and Jordan. Al-Asala Dabke was formed in 2007 and is considered Canada's oldest dabke group.

The performers rely on social media to get international bookings, Yasin said.

While there were rumours about the U.S. banning TikTok during the pandemic, Yasin said it "seems a little bit more real" now that the U.S House bill has passed.

Alternative platforms to connect audience

Other London-based TikTok users remain optimistic.

"TikTok has just gotten too big for it to completely disappear,"  said Omar Zabian, who goes by @realbigomz and has amassed more than 800,000 TikTok followers.

Zabian uses the app's creator tool to track where his followers are located and found 65 per cent of his audience is based in the U.S.

Omar Zabian goes by @realbigomz on TikTok where he amassed over 800k followers.
Omar Zabian goes by @realbigomz on TikTok where he amassed over 800k followers.

Omar Zabian, who goes by @realbigomz on TikTok, has amassed over 800,000 followers. He's hanging on to hope the U.S. won't ban TikTok. (Submitted by Omar Zabian)

Since the House vote, Zabian has been redirecting his followers to his Twitch and Instagram accounts as a backup plan, he said.

"I never thought it would actually get this close," said Zabian. "I have been working lately to not push people away from my TikTok, but to disperse my audience so I would have some on Instagram and some on Twitch."

But he is hanging on to hope that the U.S. won't ban TikTok as long as American buyers gain a large portion of TikTok's earnings, Zabian said.

If there's a U.S. ban, Sabaa Sari, a full-time lifestyle blogger on TikTok with more than 165,000 followers, is optimistic American users will find loopholes to download the social media app.

"When I go to Jordan — government bans TikTok there, but all the people are using TikTok," said Sari. "So even if they banned TikTok, people would figure out how to still use it. They're just gonna download the VPN."

She posts on TikTok about three times a week but only makes money from it through livestreams, which doesn't interest her, Sari said. Instead, TikTok drives people to her Instagram page.

If there's a U.S. ban, she said, she'd continue to use her Instagram, where she has more than 90,000 followers and earns a living through brand deals, sponsorships and posts.