1. Life & Culture

What do a TikTok ban and Instagram Reels mean for Florida video app users?

The Chinese-owned video app faces a ban for the way it gathers data from users. Popular Florida TikTok creators weighed in.

After the coronavirus caused her work to slow down, Tampa beauty blogger Savvy J. started making TikToks around town for fun.

She praised the sweets at Alessi Bakery, sipped coffee on the roof of The Attic Cafè in downtown Tampa and filmed her shopping trip at MD Oriental Market in Pinellas Park.

Her videos have now been viewed over a million times. More than 18,000 users followed her profile, @likecherriesinspring, and that number keeps growing.

But that could change. The Chinese-owned short-form video app TikTok has been under growing scrutiny for the way it gathers data from users. On Thursday night, President Donald Trump signed nationwide ban on doing business with Tiktok unless an American company buys it within 45 days. Microsoft is in talks to acquire parts of the app that operate in the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Related: A Florida cybersecurity expert weighs in on TikTok safety

“When we started to hear that TikTok was going to get banned, obviously it was sad because there are so many people in the area who really love the videos,” Savvy J. said. “I’ve gotten a brand-new following from TikTok.”

Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok allows users to edit and post clips in the app. Creators can duet with others, layer effects and filters and lip synch over audio ripped from other videos.

The app’s “For You Page” is tailored to each user’s interests and behavior, with an algorithm serving endless dancing clips, recipes, tutorials and more. TikTok usage spiked as the pandemic forced people to stay home, with downloads reaching over 2 billion in April.

Now as the app’s future remains uncertain, other companies are eager to fill the demand. Earlier this week, competing short-form video app Triller hit the No. 1 spot on the app store across 50 countries. On Wednesday, Facebook-owned Instagram launched its direct competitor to TikTok, Reels. Instagram users will be able to create their own short-form videos without leaving the app.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with Florida TikTok creators to hear how new developments might affect the way users share videos.

Samantha Longton, 25, is an Orlando-based social media management student who creates travel videos on TikTok as @samanthalongton. [ Courtesty of Samantha Longton ]

When New York native Samantha Longton moved to Orlando last year, she didn’t know much to do for fun other than visit theme parks. As the pandemic shuttered parks, she decided to start exploring other attractions in town and around the state.

Longton, 25, started documenting trips to local attractions on TikTok. In the past few months, her reviews have attracted over 40,000 followers.

“It is so huge to me is to make sure that these places get the coverage that they deserve, especially at a time like this where normally they wouldn’t be getting business,” she said.

She credits her success to the app’s algorithm.

“With TikTok you don’t even have to be following people and it just pops up on your For You Page,” said Longton, who is pursing a master’s degree in social media marketing online at Southern New Hampshire University.

With a potential TikTok ban, she’s started to look at moving her following to another social media site. She remembers Vine celebrities migrating to YouTube. Despite Reels being similar to TikTok, she’s more skeptical of how Instagram will work.

“I think it’s it’s gonna be harder to gain followers and to create and put out your content on Instagram, just because of how that platform is already set up,” she said.


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♬ Wonder Land - Kavv
St. Petersburg resident Caulin Donaldson, 24, is popular on TikTok for the eco-friendly videos he posts as @TrashCaulin. [ Courtesy of Caulin Donaldson ]

While working for Suncoast Watersports on St. Pete Beach last year, Caulin Donaldson would see garbage left behind in the sand.

TikTok was an app he used as a fun distraction. He began posting videos of the litter he found. Donaldson, 24, has now documented his beach cleanups for more than 230 consecutive days. His 587,000+ TikTok followers know him as TrashCaulin.

He also credits the TikTok algorithm with helping him get his eco-friendly message out, and is disappointed to hear that the app might go away right after TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer announced a $200 million Creator Fund that could help fund his educational videos.

“It really gave a voice to anybody to show and create,” he said.

Donaldson is skeptical of Instagram Reels. With TikTok, he could open the app and instantly escape with a bottomless selection of videos tailored to his interests. Having to open Instagram means getting distracted by posts and stories. It also means his content could get lost.

Still, he plans to give the platform’s new feature a try.

“I think that they have a really good way of taking things that already exist and making it their own and kind of almost upgrading it, so I’m super open,” he said. “I already seen a beta version and I can tell it’s pretty close to how TikTok is put together. So I think it’ll be very interesting competition”


DAY 236/365. I CANT BELIEVE HOW BEAUTIFUL THE SKY LOOKED THIS MORNING 🤯⛅️ Did you pick up any trash today?? ##trash ##beach ##savetheearth

♬ original sound - trashcaulin
Emily Croslin, 23, is a lifestyle and fashion blogger based in St. Petersburg. She posts on TikTok as @helloemilyerin. [ Courtesy of Emily Croslin ]

St. Petersburg-based blogger Emily Croslin, 23, has been a content creator on Instagram for a few years. While her lifestyle and fashion posts are more successful on Instagram, TikTok has been a fun place to experiment and get in front of a new audience.

“I personally am really excited about Instagram reels because I feel like TikTok has been a little more difficult,” she said. “I had a couple videos become super successful overnight, and then I woke up to thousands of followers, whereas Instagram has always been very steady but slow burn.”

Crolin is most interested in seeing how Reels compares to Instagram’s existing IGTV, which allows users to upload longer videos. When that platform was launched, she decided to lean into that instead of starting a YouTube channel.

“I was able to work within the constraints of Instagram and I was already very comfortable with Instagram,” Croslin said. “So I think that it could be the same thing with Reels.”

She is also excited to tap into her already-engaged Instagram audience. But she will miss getting inspiration from other TikTok users if the app goes away.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the app since quarantine started. I actually do see it as a place that sparks creativity for me,” Croslin said. “I know there’s been like a lot of TikToks about photoshoot ideas or tips for bloggers, things like that. So I’ve kind of looked towards it as a space to learn.”


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♬ Backyard Boy - Claire Rosinkranz