Congress wants to ban TikTok. They have no idea what that means to the rest of us.
Over the past two years, I've taught more than 250,000 people how to land great jobs without college degrees.
And I did it on TikTok. How did I get there? Let me tell you.
In 2020, I was making $28,000 a year working at a call center, selling Hawaii tourists snorkel tours. My husband, Ryan, a born and raised local boy, had just graduated from recruit training to be a firefighter for the Honolulu Fire Department.
On March 17, 2020, my manager came to my desk. She quietly told me that someone was sick and that I needed to grab my stuff and leave the building immediately. I never went back. This was the beginning of COVID-19 for me.
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I was laid off. My whole department was laid off. Tourism shut down virtually overnight. I knew my job was gone for good. It’s near impossible to survive in Hawaii on a new firefighter’s income, but I had no clue what to do.
My industry disappeared. There were no jobs.
TikTok helped me turn things around
Broke and stressed, I discovered Salesforce, a CRM software as a service company, on Reddit. I started studying for an administrator certification. Seven weeks later, I landed a $70,000-a-year remote job. I kept teaching myself new skills and earning certifications.
Less than six months later, I broke the $100,000-a-year mark, something I was told I'd never be able to do without the communications degree I didn't buy.
Two out of three Americans are degree free. I am one of them. No one was talking about how to get good jobs or how to overcome the paper bias that keeps us out of jobs.
So I started talking about it. On TikTok.
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TikTok enabled us to educate and inspire hundreds of thousands of people. Through our TikTok community, courses and the Degree Free podcast we teach them how to get the work they want without spending years of their life going into crushing college debt.
TikTok gives us access to connect, share our stories and educate ourselves. Tiktok is a modern Library of Alexandria. And we must keep it from burning down.
People who scoff at that don’t understand TikTok. People like members of our wildly out-of-touch Congress.
How TikTok works
Meta and Alphabet need TikTok banned because TikTok shows you what you want to see, instead of what they want you to see.
Here’s how the TikTok algorithm works: TikTok shows you content that you may want to see. If you interact with that content, it shows you more and more of it. It's a reflection of your expressed interests. Congress thinks TikTok is all dancing teenage girls. That tells us more about their viewing habits than it does about the app.
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I haven’t seen a dancing teenage girl since my first day on TikTok two years ago. Want to learn how to get a job without paying colleges for a piece of paper?
TikTok will show you.
Want to learn about how TurboTax lobbies Congress to keep taxes complicated?
Want to learn what stocks Congress is buying?
TikTok will show you.
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Real people can grow a community by simply speaking. TikTok creates space for real people to share what they care about. And that space threatens big institutions with deep pockets.
Who gets to control information?
Colleges. Corporations. Congress. Information is power. It’s dangerous.
Information makes us ask questions. The information shows us where our money is going. Information can bring our attention to where it's not wanted.
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The TikTok ban is the least worrisome part of Bill 686.
The Restrict Act gives the federal government unilateral control to shut down any group of 1 million or more Americans doing anything together online.
Speaking, learning, buying. Anything.
One thing was glaringly obvious after watching the congressional hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, no one is less qualified to ban applications than a member of our federal government:
Many Congress people own shares in companies that need to ban TikTok because they can't compete with its ability to show people what they actually want to see
Meta hired a public relations firm to create urgency to ban TikTok, according to The Washington Post.
"Experts" being asked to weigh in have little to no working knowledge of TikTok. Meanwhile, TikTok creators educated on this issue are willing to speak and are suddenly hearing radio silence from legacy news media.
If Congress bans TikTok, 150 million Americans lose access to education, opportunity and each other.
I needed a moment of peace: Then I found this mother singing to her kids on TikTok.
Viral TikTok helped me stand up for myself, others: A stranger filmed me without my consent and put it on TikTok. I stood up for myself – and won.
What if I didn't have the chance to help people?
Every day, I get comments, messages and emails from people who no longer feel trapped because they were able to join the Degree Free movement. Because of TikTok, they changed their lives.
But what if TikTok had never shown them the Degree Free path? What if they didn’t want to go to college but didn’t know any other options? What if they were Degree Free and wanted to change jobs but didn’t know how? What if there were only silence?
Our employees in Congress do not have the right to strip us of information, access and community. They do not have the right to control the applications we download and use.
If they take that freedom from us, we will never get it back. We have power on TikTok.
I started speaking.
My videos have been seen more than 789 million times. Hundreds of thousands joined my movement. I’ve taught thousands of people to get the work they want without a college degree.
Through TikTok, I’ve helped thousands of people change their lives. If we do not act now, we may never have that power again. We cannot claw back the freedom that Congress is determined to rip from us. Call your representative, call your senator and remind them they work for you.
If anyone wants an educated opinion on the TikTok ban instead of corporate talking points, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Hannah Maruyama runs the @degreefree TikTok profile with more than 285,000 followers and more than 24.5 million video views. She and her co-host Ryan Maruyama run the Degree Free podcast.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Senate Bill 686 is about control. If TikTok ban wins, we all lose.