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TikTokers feel betrayed by their favorite congressman voting to ban the app — and aren't letting him off with an apology

Jeff Jackson, US representative for North Carolina's 14th congressional district
Rep. Jeff Jackson, who built a following of 2.3 million on TikTok.The Washington Post/Getty Images
  • Rep. Jeff Jackson voted "yes" to a bill that could lead to TikTok being banned in the US.

  • Jackson's decision led to backlash from his 2.3 million TikTok followers, who felt "betrayed."

  • Jackson, a Democrat, apologized for how he handled things but not for how he voted.

Rep. Jeff Jackson said sorry to his followers after voting "yes" on a bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the US unless its parent company sells it.

TikTok users, who had heralded Jackson as a politician who was "different" and trustworthy, broadly did not accept the apology.

Jackson, a Democrat with a seat in North Carolina, has 2.3 million followers on TikTok. There, he's built a platform where he explains how Congress works and gives insight into politics.

This is why when he announced he would be voting in favor of a bill compelling TikTok's parent company to sell to a US firm or face a ban, TikTokers labeled him a hypocrite.

They said they felt "betrayed" by Jackson's decision and accused him of double standards. Jackson lost around 200,000 followers in the aftermath.

Supporters of the proposed ban say the Chinese government holds power over TikTok and can use it to sway opinions or spread misinformation. (TikTok denies that Beijing influences it.)

Critics, meanwhile, say a ban would be government overreach and may backfire on the reelection campaign of President Joe Biden, who supports the ban.

The bill passed the House on March 13. 352 Representatives, including Jackson, voted in favor, and 65 voted against.

It is awaiting a similar vote in the Senate — and if approved there, Biden could sign it into law.

The backlash Jackson received was so intense he deleted the video trying to explain his decision.

In it, he said he didn't think TikTok would actually be banned, and that in practice, it would just force a sale.

But a few days later, Jackson apologized.

"I did not handle this situation well from top to bottom, and that is why I have been completely roasted on this app over the last 48 hours," he said. "And I get it. If I were in your shoes, I would probably feel the same way."

He said he understood the charge of hypocrisy but was motivated by "genuinely alarming" private congressional briefings to support the bill.

He said he agreed with forcing a sale but wouldn't like to see a ban because TikTok "has become a force for good in the lives of millions of people."

Weighing those things up, he said he voted for the bill because he believed the chance of a TikTok ban "is practically zero."

"I still believe that, but maybe I got that balance wrong," he said. "On the one hand, I have information about this app that isn't public. On the other, the language of the bill was going to upset millions of people.

"My thinking was I could reconcile those two things by just making a video that said, 'Hey, here's the situation,' and that was a total disaster. I really overestimated my ability to do that in a really hot moment when millions of people were laser-focused on this."

He also said people were wrong to claim he was accepting money from TikTok rivals such as Meta to vote for the bill.

(Business Insider reviewed his campaign-finance records for 2021-22 and 2023-24 and saw no funding from tech firms.)

"That doesn't change the fact that I screwed this up," he said. "I did. I apologize and I will keep you posted."

A representative for Jackson's office told Business Insider that Jackson apologized for how he handled the situation but that he stood firm on his decision.

How TikTokers responded

Moe, a TikTok creator with 150,000 followers on her account @moe.makes.magick, told BI that it makes sense politicians use TikTok to appeal to younger voters, and said Jackson did it well. She said he broke things down in a "simple way that's digestible" but didn't "insult our intelligence."

His content had mass appeal to people all over the US, and he became known for being "knowledgeable, but humble, transparent, and honest."

"He didn't feel like a politician, which a lot of people innately don't trust — he felt like one of us," Moe said. "That is, until he voted to open the opportunity for TikTok to be banned."

A lot of TikTok users felt Jackson's concerns about public safety were "absolute baloney," she said, and his yes vote was "a massive screw-up."

"If it was really that dangerous, he wouldn't be on the app, we would be explicitly told what the danger was, and he definitely wouldn't be filming from his kitchen, as he said he did in his video on the State of the Union," she said.

"We felt that it was absolutely not acceptable that he could gain a massive nationwide following from an app and then vote to open up the possibility for it to go away."

Moe didn't think much of the apology video either, saying Jackson didn't clearly state what he was sorry for, nor did he say what he was going to do to fix it.

"It was a false, empty apology sandwich," she said.

Suggesting is vote didn't matter all that much was also a "terrifying" thing to say, she added, because it "made us think that he didn't think our votes mattered either."

Glenn DeVar, who has 166,000 TikTok followers on his account @glernndevern, told BI it was "frustrating" to see a politician like Jackson, who built his platform on honesty and transparency, employ "the same rhetorical sleights-of-hand that are stereotypical of an average politician."

"He says his vote was simply to 'force the sale of TikTok,' but omits that the forcing itself involves banning the platform if they are unsuccessful — a fact he is clearly attempting to avoid," he said. "The messaging feels intentionally misleading and I find that disappointing."

DeVar said he doesn't believe Jackson is "irredeemable," but that voting yes on the bill was "a poor political move on his part."

"He made a name for himself on TikTok and then voted to potentially ban Americans from using it," he said. "Our access to free speech shouldn't be used as a chess piece. And I hope that he can come to see this eventually."

Read the original article on Business Insider