TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the privacy of her home, under the glow of bright vanity lights, and with only her reflection staring back, Kat Stickler presses record on her phone and shares her life with the world.
“This is my safe space to film when I’m not doing comedy,” she said about her office space in her Tampa home dedicated to curating short videos for social media.
From our one-on-one chat to life’s everyday moments with her toddler MK, Kat shares just about everything on the popular yet controversial video app TikTok.
“The beautiful part of TikTok is you’re able to connect with literally everybody. You can reach so many people and that forms a different type of community. It’s different from all other platforms,” she said.
Like thousands of others, Kat joined TikTok during the height of COVID-19 as a way to connect with the outside world as we collectively experienced lockdowns. Through a shared account, Kat and her husband shared their lives with anyone who would watch and slowly built a large following.
“Let’s be vulnerable, let’s be funny, let’s talk about life, let’s about the good, let’s talk about the bad,” she recalls about her TikTok experience.
Kat never expected the bad would include a very public divorce. The couple announced they were separating, shortly after the birth of their daughter. Kat decided to continue to post. This time sharing the most intimate moments of divorce, becoming a single mother, and starting a new chapter on her own.
“It was real and I was sad and it was hard and I wanted to show the process and it was also kind of cathartic for me and healing for me to communicate this and it felt less lonely as well,” Kat said.
Her vulnerability catapulted her to TikTok stardom, amassing 10 million followers in two years.
“Instead of being this shameful thing I had so many women backing me up and this whole community and that’s why it’s so hard for me, TikTok has been around for the most instrumental times of my life,” she said.
Kat’s referring to talks of a potential ban on TikTok in the United States. She says can’t imagine what it would do to the millions of diverse communities formed on the app. Congress and the Biden Administration have recently renewed efforts to ban the Chinese-owned app due to data security, misinformation, and mental health concerns.
“I think banning TikTok instead of regulating TikTok, um, think seems a little un-American,” she said, “It’s kind of hard to conceptualize because it’s over $150 million U.S. users that are on this app.”
As Congress continues to debate a potential ban, Montana has become the first state to ban the app approving such legislation in May. TikTok has filed suit against the law citing a violation of the First Amendment. According to legal experts, a nationwide ban could face similar legal challenges. Kat is worried about the silencing of TikTok and believes other measures should be looked at first.
“To confront bullying to confront anything. I 100 percent believe it. It’s no different than Instagram in that sense, no different than Facebook, Twitter Youtube, it’s really not. It’s the same thing,” said Kat.
Her concerns also include the ripple effect a TikTok ban would have on content creators. Kat is one of the thousands of influencers who have created full-time and lucrative careers through TikTok.
“I wouldn’t be able to support my daughter, because I support her”, said Kat, “I wouldn’t be able to do that on my own without TikTok, I wouldn’t be able to move out of that apartment, I wouldn’t be able to get this house without TikTok.”
According to the social media management tool Sprout Social, 37 percent of TikTokers in the U.S. earn $100,000 a year through content creation. Kat’s page is filled with paid partnerships with brands like Olay, State Farm, and Folgers.
“I think I can already see companies backing up a little bit and being like we don’t what to do because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Kat, “If it TikTok were to end tomorrow, I would be okay. I would have my other platforms, I have backup things going on but I think it’d be a really big shame.”
Her popularity on the app has also allowed Kat to give back to her community and beyond.
“I think TikTok brings so much good to this world, she said, “Tiktok, even for Hurricane Ian, helped me raise over $125,000. I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
As talks of a potential ban continue, Kat says she chooses to remain committed to creating relatable content and connecting with the world — one video at a time.