March 13, 2024 - 7:30pm

Let’s assume the bill that just passed in the House irrevocably changes TikTok, either via a ban or a cultural disruption under new ownership. (Think the way Twitter, now X, changed under Musk.)

Will teenagers “freak out”, as former president Donald Trump predicted? Will Joe Biden lose the youth vote? Will the culture fostered on TikTok disappear?

If TikTok, or just TikTok as we know it, disappeared, it would obviously be disruptive for the app’s massive base of young American users. But it’s also unlikely to spell the end of short-form video content or the communities that have made TikTok their home (sorry Mike Gallagher!). Unfortunately for our social media-shy social commentators and policymakers, online communities are resilient and adaptable to turbulent platform changes. Historically, this has proved true on any scale. Ban a “toxic” subreddit and a forum emerges in its stead. Kill an entire platform, and people migrate.

Dedicated users find ways to move en masse to new digital spaces that serve their needs, like refugees seeking a new homeland. This pattern of forced migration has happened dozens of times throughout internet history. One example is what happened when LiveJournal, a blogging platform and social network immensely popular with fandoms in the 2000s began to alienate users through policy changes and an ownership transition many saw as hostile. Restrictive content rules, deletions of fan material deemed “obscene”, and unpopular design decisions prompted an exodus to Tumblr and sites like Archive of Our Own (AO3).

This migration kept the communities largely intact, with users rebuilding their fan networks and continuing traditions on the new platforms. In fact, some saw it as an opportunity to establish fresher, more thoughtfully designed digital spaces tailored to their needs. TikTok users would likely follow a similar trajectory.

The most obvious migration path would be moving to short-form video features on well-established social apps such as Instagram’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts. Some more niche fan communities may gravitate to nerdier, fandom-oriented spaces like Discord. There may also be attempts to build TikTok alternatives from scratch, replicating the features, design and community elements that users valued most while fixing its flaws — untouched by Big Tech — or attempts to revive older platforms, such as Tumblr.

Over time, one of these upstarts could emerge as a worthy successor that captures the magic of TikTok, just as it came to overshadow Vine. The disappearance of TikTok the app would not extinguish the spirit of TikTok — it would just move elsewhere.

What’s more, TikTok may have already been on the road to resembling a “digital ghost town”, eerily similar to the fate of once-dominant social network MySpace, or Facebook. While it has a dedicated American user base, which Pew Research found includes 63% of US teens aged 13-17, studies also show that the demographics are changing. Today, nearly 40% of TikTok users are in their 30s and 40s.

This bill was born from fears about nebulous “national security concerns.” When policymakers and commentators are pressed about those concerns, they ultimately boil down to “the CCP can use TikTok to influence public opinion.” The real surprise might be that the CCP had less influence than the US government suspects. Still, ban or no ban — young people will survive. There will be no revolt.

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit