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Changes to TikTok could affect how businesses are promoted online

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A bill that would force TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company or face a ban in the U.S. is working its way through Congress. The House gave the measure overwhelming approval yesterday with support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including speaker Mike Johnson and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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NANCY PELOSI: I'm a grandmother of teenagers. I understand the entertainment value, the educational value, the communication value, the business value for some business on this. This is not an attempt to ban TikTok. It's an attempt to make TikTok better - tic-tac-toe, a winner.

MARTÍNEZ: Now the bill goes to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Critics say TikTok could threaten U.S. national security because the Chinese government requires firms to share data on demand. Detractors also say the platform is addictive and could be used to exploit children for money. Many online influencers and some business owners disagree. Jerry Rowley is one. He's the owner of Logan's Candies in Ontario, Calif. He and his daughter used TikTok to promote their business. Jerry, so I just looked this up. I'm looking at your page right now - 8.6 million followers on TikTok. I mean, what would you tell members of Congress about what TikTok means for your business?

JERRY ROWLEY: Oh, well, TikTok's been really good for us, as is all social media. But yeah, we've had a huge response from it. Lots of people watching what's going on, so many more people able to see what we do here, watching our candy-making and things like that. So it's been very good - uptick in business, people coming in our store, shipping and all those kind of things. So it's been very good for us.

MARTÍNEZ: You are quite the showman on your TikTok page when you make the candy. I'm very entertained watching all your videos. How would a ban on TikTok affect your livelihood?

ROWLEY: Well, like I said, we have definitely seen an uptick in our business here. We would not like to see it go away. I mean, initially social media just was a great way for us to keep in contact with our customers. But as TikTok came on, we had many, many more watchers and viewers. So of course our business increased, our shipping increased. So it's been really good for us. In fact, I know a lot of people that just after COVID, when business was down, they saw their businesses come back up as TikTok came out and more and more people were using it. And it's a great way for them to use their - and advertise their business and let other people see what they're doing.

MARTÍNEZ: Has anyone come to your store and said, I saw you on TikTok, and I just had to see for myself in person - has anyone done that?

ROWLEY: Oh, daily. I mean, multiple times a day. We have people not only from other states - we're in California - but other states, other countries. I mean, it's a continuous thing almost all day long. So it's been amazing for us - so really good for our business.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, lawmakers want to force a change in TikTok ownership, say. They fear that the Chinese government could collect Americans' personal data by way of the app. Does that concern you? Is that a fear of yours at all?

ROWLEY: Well, I mean, nobody wants to see their information captured, but I believe it's going on on all the different platforms out there, whether it be through Instagram, Facebook, Meta, you know, X - I mean, they're all consuming the data that they're, you know, getting as people are consuming our content and things like that. So I'm not too concerned about that because it's going on almost everywhere.

MARTÍNEZ: What is it about TikTok that you think helps your business specifically? Is there something about the app and the way it's set up and the way it works that really is useful to you in particular?

ROWLEY: Well, the videos, the short-run videos, the longer videos - I mean, they did things that now other people - Instagram, obviously, with their reels have kind of copied TikTok. But it's just the way they present it. I just think it - I mean, we've seen the amount of users just increase almost on a daily basis. It just keeps growing for us. So people - I'm not sure exactly what it is that does it, but I think it's just the way the format's set up, you can interact, you know, put in comments and things like that. And people have been loving it. So it's been a huge response for us.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned how you have over 8.5 million followers on TikTok. If TikTok were to go away, Jerry - I mean, you've gone far down that road with TikTok. I mean, what would happen to your visibility if it were to go away?

ROWLEY: Well, we would hope that we could get on another platform and maybe another platform would grow, and we could do that. But I mean, it would definitely - no doubt it would decrease our business. I mean, yeah, those first few days, maybe not. But as weeks go on and people aren't seeing our content, we're going to get less followers. We're going to get less people calling us, less people responding, less shipping and all those kind of things. So we definitely don't want to see it go. We like to see it stay around for a while.

MARTÍNEZ: That is business owner Jerry Rowley in Ontario, Calif. And Jerry, thanks.

ROWLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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