Tick Tock Goes the Clock: Insights on How a TikTok Ban Would Affect Americans

The countdown has begun for TikTok parent company ByteDance to sell off the US division as part of the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.” This is not the first time that TikTok has been motioned for a sale of the US division due to questions about national security and data privacy—the Trump administration and TikTok initially agreed to a sale before negotiations fell apart in 2020.

In fact, the US is not even the first country to institute a ban on TikTok—India banned the app in 2020, and its user base was double the nearly 150 million that use the app in the US. While TikTok and the government continue to deliberate, Numerator researched TikTok users and gathered consumer sentiment and insights on the situation, overall social media habits, and potential apps that could fill the TikTok void. 

Who is the TikTok User?

According to Numerator psychographics data, 31% of US adult consumers currently use TikTok, ranking it fifth in popularity among social media apps behind Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. Diving deep, TikTok users are more likely to be diverse Gen Z consumers. 

TikTok is Gen Z’s favorite social media app, with 76% saying that they use it. For comparison, TikTok falls in popularity through the generations. Fourty percent of Millennials use it (their fourth-most-used social media app), 36% of Gen X (their fifth-most-used social media app), and 18% of Boomers (their sixth-most-used social media app). 53% of Gen Z users say they use TikTok 1-2 hours per day vs. 40% of all consumers.

With Gen Z being the most likely generation to use TikTok, it is important to understand how they view it and why they use it. TikTok users are 51% more likely to say that social media is the most influential ad touchpoint, so brands and retailers looking to capture younger consumers may find TikTok advertisements beneficial. 

TikTok users are nearly twice as likely to follow celebrities and internet personalities / influencers on social media compared to all consumers. Our Influencer & Celebrity Impact on Shopping Behavior report showed that over half of Gen Z influencer brand purchasers were aware of a brand’s influencer affiliation, the most of any generation. 

TikTok users also spend more time on their mobile devices. Forty-one percent say they use mobile devices for more than six hours per day, compared to 31% of all consumers. The most content consumed on TikTok includes comedy & entertainment, recipes, and life hacks. Only 26% of TikTok users leverage the app to learn about news and world events.

How do Americans feel about a TikTok ban?

The potential ban has made national news with many people wondering,"Is a TikTok ban is a good thing?" US consumers are paying attention, especially TikTok users. Among all US consumers, 40% are very / extremely familiar with the ban, with 13% not having any awareness of it. Over half (53%) said they would be neither happy nor upset if the ban went into effect, 30% said they would be somewhat or very happy, and 17% would be upset if a ban took place. 

In general, half of the US population has lingering concerns about social media. Among all US consumers, 

  • 57% are concerned about social media’s impact on children.
  • 50% say social media is often a toxic environment.
  • 50% believe social media apps listen to and watch what they have on their phone.
  • 57% believe big tech and social media companies need more oversight.

Not surprisingly, TikTok users have very different awareness and sentiments surrounding the app’s potential ban. 52% are very / extremely familiar with the ban, with only 8% not having any awareness of it. Forty-one percent said they would be somewhat or very upset should the app be banned, and this number grows among Gen Z TikTok users—57% would be upset. 

Among TikTok users specifically, less than half have concerns about social media: 

  • 49% are concerned about social media’s impact on children.
  • 41% say social media is often a toxic environment.
  • 49% believe social media apps listen to and watch what they have on their phone.
  • 44% believe big tech and social media companies need more oversight.

Are Americans concerned about social media privacy?

While many US consumers feel indifferent about the TikTok ban, their views about government oversight tell a different story. Over half of US consumers (57%) feel that the government needs to be more involved in watching over and putting regulations around big tech and social media companies. Because of its ownership, TikTok’s potential ban brings in the topic of national security, but for all social media apps in general, personal information and privacy remains a concern. 

One-third of consumers feel neutral about data privacy for most social media apps. The exception is X (formerly Twitter), of which only 28% feel neutral about trusting the app with their personal information and privacy and nearly half (45%) distrust it. For TikTok, concern around privacy is middling—Americans trust it more than Meta platforms and X but less than LinkedIn and Pinterest.

While TikTok looks to sue the US government over infringing on rights to free speech to stave off a ban, only 14% of Americans say they view social media as a way to voice their rights to free speech. The number increases among TikTok users with nearly 1 in 4 (23%) agreeing with the sentiment.

Where will TikTok users go if TikTok is banned?

Social media apps from Meta and Google were quickly adapting to fill TikTok’s absence during TikTok's ban in India. Instagram and YouTube, which both began offering video reel services in the second half of 2020, gained many of TikTok’s previous followers as per The New York Times. Facebook then included Reels in their own app the year after. 

Numerator expects consumers to move to Meta's platforms and YouTube should a ban occur in the US. If TikTok was no longer available for use or download, 47% of US consumers said they would use Facebook as a replacement, 44% said Instagram and 40% said YouTube. However, many TikTok users could find themselves bored with the alternatives. Less than 1 in 10 TikTok users view most other social media apps as being more entertaining than TikTok—though YouTube was the exception, with 18% finding it more entertaining than TikTok. Marketing agencies and content creators will need to consider how they make their content engaging in these new social media platforms.

What will happen to TikTok Shop?

While these apps can fill the social media gap left by TikTok, what about those who use TikTok for shopping? It is difficult to scroll through TikTok without getting an ad for something available on TikTok Shop. TikTok Shop shoppers, identified through receipt-verified purchases, are more likely to be low-income, LGBTQ+, Gen Z’ers spending an average of $28 on TikTok Shop three times a year. In assessing their shopping habits, TikTok shoppers are 4x more likely to shop at Temu, 3x more likely to use DoorDash, 2.5x more likely to use UberEats, and 2x more likely to shop online at Ulta, Kohl’s, and Target. 

Given their shopping behaviors, it is likely that TikTok shoppers would move toward spending more on other cost-effective retail marketplaces such as Temu and Shein that offer a manufacturer-to-consumer model or shift more dollars toward traditional retailers that have a convenient and easily navigable online presence such as DoorDash. 

While only time will tell if the TikTok ban will happen in the United States, questions continue to swirl around the level of security and data privacy on social media apps. As for brands, retailers, and agencies, TikTok holds considerable power in capturing younger Americans and poses a threat to where ad spending can go. 

This analysis was shared in our eNumerate: Topical Twists event. To learn more about TikTok users, where they’re headed, and what a future without TikTok might look like get in touch with our team.


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