‘Will have to start from scratch’: TikTok influencers turn to other platforms after ban

The day the ban was announced, influencers on TikTok began posting videos, inviting their followers to follow them on other platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.
TikTok influencers
TikTok influencers

When TikTok influencer Bhargav first heard that the platform was getting banned in India on Monday, he thought it was a joke. Funbucket Bhargav, as he is popularly known, has studied till class 10 and is from a small village in Vizianagaram in Andhra. Making videos on Vigo and TikTok brought him international fame over the past year. His “Oh! My god Oh! My god” became a sensation last year, with people all the way in the US rehashing the dialogue.

This TikTok star went from borrowing a smartphone to make these videos to now having a 10-member team, setting up a small office and even buying himself a car. Now, a huge question hangs over his head: ‘What’s next?’

“I’ve had sleepless nights for the past two days. Over the past year, I built a team of 10, who I pay salaries too. And now suddenly, I don’t know what to do. I was one of the go-to influencers in the south and was making a few lakhs every month. I have worked really hard to get here, and now suddenly there is a whole lot of uncertainty. I feel like I have to start from scratch,” Bhargav says.

At the time of the ban, Bhargav had 8.2 million followers on TikTok.

Be it dance, short stories, cooking videos, DIY hacks, or even educational videos, TikTok hosted a wide range of content. While the move to ban the platform in India along with 58 other Chinese apps has been lauded by some quarters, it is hard to understate TikTok’s penetration in India. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is the world’s highest valued startup, and considers India to be its largest overseas market with over 200 million users every month.

As of April 2020, the app had been downloaded over 2 billion times, of which 30% was from India according to a Sensor Tower report. By the same month, it had 611 million lifetime downloads in India. In April 2019, ByteDance said it was planning to invest $1 billion in India over three years. 

Ticket to fame

Be it a couple dancing in the fields of a small village, or bus drivers in Karnataka, hundreds of creators, many from small towns and villages also received international fame, thanks to their creativity. Take for example Arman Rathod, a TikTok user from Gujarat, who caught the attention of the world with his dance moves. With a following of 4.7 million, he went on to win a scholarship worth Rs 3 lakh for a one-year diploma course from Bollywood choreographer Terence Lewis at his Professional Training Institute.

Mohamed Thoufiq and his 72-year-old grandmother Rajamani from Chennai, for instance, garnered significant following through TikTok. They made videos of famous film dialogues, scenes and more. One of their most popular videos was a dialogue from Chandramukhi, which garnered nearly 30 million views soon after they uploaded it.

“Everything happened because of Tiktok. It’s a little upsetting for me. I have to move into another platform and start from scratch. It’s disappointing but it’s a government decision, so what to do,” Mohamed Thoufiq says.

For Sashi Kumar, who went by the TikTok handle Burra Paadu, TikTok was his way of trying to make it to the movies. “It wasn’t my life, but a ticket to fame for me and that is gone now,” he says.

Breaking caste, class, heteronormative barriers

While TikTok received its fair share of criticism for videos that propagated violence, as well as ‘cringe’ content, it gave a platform to many, transcending gender, age, class, and geographical borders.

The platform also gave the queer community a space to express themselves. Post the ban, many took to social media to talk about how creators on TikTok were able to present queer narratives in a creative, yet simple way.

“TikTok gave everyone an equal opportunity regardless of their class and caste to come and talk about their queerness, express their queerness. Normalised it for people as well because they were getting to see queer people more often,” Rishi Raj, an LGBTQIA+ activist, told The Quint.

Social media users also argued that TikTok ‘democratised’ social media in India, one of the reasons being that it had more rural than urban users.

“What's really annoying and amusing to me about idiots celebrating the ban on TikTok is that these were the same people railing against nepotism and lack of opportunities for outsiders till last week. Now, you're happy an app that broke that barrier is gone,” a Twitter user by the name of Nishtha said.

Nishtha also added that TikTok helped normalise queer love. “Imagine the positive impact of seeing queer love being free, adorable and wholesome online. Queer love expressed by people who look like you.”

Source of income

Tiktok not only skewed class divides and gave a platform to many content creators, but had also become a profession and a source of steady income for many through partnerships with brands, selling merchandise, etc. 

For both Sashi and Bhargav, TikTok was their only source of income. Another TikTok user from Mumbai who didn’t want to be named said that she had made purchases on EMIs with the income she earned through promotions.

“Yes, there are other platforms, but will we get the same visibility? Will brands still pay us the same?” she questions, adding that there are many like her.

Finding alternatives

While they have been left in the lurch, TikTok content creators are not backing down, and are already looking at other platforms, like YouTube, Instagram, and others to continue making videos.

The day the ban was announced, influencers on TikTok began posting videos, inviting their followers to follow them on other platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

Nita, a TikTok content creator from Mumbai, says that along with TikTok, she had always built a strong following on Instagram as well, and began earning through Instagram during the lockdown. “After TikTok was banned, I got over 50,000 new followers overnight. So, I know I can grow myself there,” says Nita, who is already receiving offers for paid promotion on her Instagram.


Konsa outfit best tha ? . . @nita_shilimkar

A post shared by (@nita_shilimkar) on

Thoufiq also says that he will now become a lot more active on Instagram and continue creating content there.

Sashi will now focus on creating content and building his brand on YouTube.

Among the apps attempting to grab a piece of the pie that TikTok dominated are Chingari and Roposo. Others are also courting these influencers to join their platform and are promising monetisation, depending on how viral their videos are.

Bhargav, Nita and a few other influencers said they did receive calls from these platforms. Bhargav says he even received an offer to become the brand ambassador for one of them, but is contemplating this move since he's unsure if he would receive the same kind of following there. Unlike many, he says, he didn’t focus on another platform, and the sudden ban on TikTok has left him in a limbo. Though he is considering shifting to other platforms, he is apprehensive if his followers will watch him there.

Though Nita is planning alternatives, she says she thinks that TikTok will eventually come back. “The ban will impact a lot of people. The TikTok community was massive. So, I feel this is mainly political, and it will eventually come back,” she adds.

For most creators though, no matter the platform, making videos and entertaining their followers still remains their main priority.

“Whatever the situation is, we will entertain people. People recognised our faces and liked our content. They only brought us to this level, so I’m sure they'll help us grow now as well. In fact, though I was very upset, paati was reassuring. She said don’t worry, we can still do videos. She has been very encouraging,” Thoufiq says.

With inputs from Haripriya S

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