In a hotel room on Wednesday morning, Janette Ok, a fashion and lifestyle TikTok creator from Los Angeles, was getting ready for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. She ripped off the tag hanging from a sleeve of her blazer and donned a pair of hot pink gloves, which matched her heels.
Might she consider more ergonomic footwear for the long day ahead?
“Anything for the fashion,” she said.
Ms. Ok, 26, was one of more than 30 TikTok stars who took part in an all-expenses paid trip to speak on behalf of the platform amid rising TikTok tensions as the Biden administration has pushed TikTok’s Chinese ownership to sell the video app or face a possible ban in the United States. TikTok’s Singapore-based chief executive, Shou Chew, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.
TikTok flew the creators (and their plus-ones) first class to Washington and put them up in a high-end hotel for the week. On Tuesday, the group had dinner with Mr. Chew, who appeared in a number of videos posted that night.
On Wednesday morning, remnants of room service — a pink smoothie, some picked-over lox and eggs — sat on a table in Ms. Ok’s room overlooking the Jefferson Memorial. She had brought along a friend, Imani Carrier, a fellow creator.
Before joining TikTok in 2019, Ms. Ok had been steadily building a following on other social media platforms. On TikTok, she gained a million followers in six months. With that growth came opportunities. Some have been just plain fun, like meeting the actor Michael B. Jordan. Others have been highly remunerative. These days, she can command as much as $70,000 for a single brand deal, she said.“It’s like the new American dream,” she said of her experience, adding that her parents had immigrated from South Korea to Los Angeles.
Throughout the day, a number of other creators would echo TikTok talking points on what it says it is doing to safeguard personal data, including a switch last year to routing American user data through the U.S. company Oracle, moving away from storing some data on servers outside the United States. (In June, the company also said it would still keep backups of the data as it made the move.) The creators also leaned heavily on statistics that the platform recently made public, including that 150 million Americans use TikTok, according to TikTok.Tag gone, heels on, Ms. Ok headed for a bus that would take her and her fellow creators to their first stop of the day.
Many of those present took advantage of the press event’s scenic location overlooking the rotunda to film videos. Ms. Ok lined up several creators who lip-synced or danced to a portion of Nicki Minaj’s “I’m Legit.” They did it in one take.
Elsewhere on the rooftop, Naomi Hearts, a 25-year-old creator known for her comedy and fashion content, filmed another video. “I had to fulfill my Elle Woods fantasy,” she said, referring to the heroine of “Legally Blonde 2,” who moves to Washington to pursue a ban on animal testing in cosmetics.
From there, group members took Ubers to the Capitol. The building is regularly filled with people walking with phones glued to their hands, but the group of TikTokers, many of them laughing and filming as they strolled the corridors, offered a palpably different energy.
Ms. Hearts and a few others met with staff members from the office of Representative Judy Chu of California. “We talked about how TikTok impacts the community and the U.S. in the positive way,” Ms. Hearts said after the meeting. She added that she thought that Ms. Chu’s staff was “perceptive,” but “didn’t give us much insight.” Still, she said, she was glad to speak her piece.
“Maybe these politicians are angry because this food is nasty,” Ms. Hearts joked later as the group ate at a lunch table littered with detritus from sandwiches, pizza, orange soda and Funyuns. The group went to two more meetings, the first with Representative Linda Sanchez of California, the second with staff members from the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Afterward, Ms. Hearts, only half joking, asked the TikTok representatives if her hotel had a spa and would the company possibly spring for a facial? When asked if she would be among the TikTok creators who would attend the hearing scheduled for Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one creator said, “What hearing?” It was genuinely hard to tell if she was kidding. (Only a few creators from the group ended up going to the event in person.)
The last stop was a news conference at the House Triangle outside the Capitol, where a select few creators gave short speeches alongside three elected officials, including Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, a vocal defender of the app.
Photo Editor: Tanner Curtis
Reporter: Madison Malone Kircher