Ashley Sproul lives in Sundance, population 1,000, but her TikTok handle, Ashley.the.mess boasts more than 122,000 followers and growing.
Sproul is one of the 150 million Americans who have made TikTok one of the most popular social media apps in America. Five million of those 150 million users are American businesses, many of them small- to medium-sized, who are using TikTok to reach their customers or to develop successful marketing campaigns.
Sproul started using the app just before the COVID-19 pandemic. She liked it better than Facebook or Instagram, which she feels is an endless feed of people curating a best version of their life to post online, one that often doesnt match reality.
On TikTok, by contrast, she saw videos of people in less-than-perfect houses, in less-than-perfect situations, talking about real problems they are facing.
"I was like oh, my gosh, they are just like me," she said. "I'm not the only weird mom who dresses like Adam Sandler and doesnt really care about the views of others. Theres others like me out there, too. They might not live in Sundance, but they are out there, and its like validation for that."
Lawmakers, however, starting with former President Donald Trump and now continuing with President Joe Biden, have raised concerns about the app. Its owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, which, under Chinese law is required to share information with its government.
That has led to some lawmakers to describe TikTok as a "Chinese spy balloon" in the palm of Americans' hands.
Just Plain Ashley
All of Sproul's videos have a "just plain folks" style that showcases not only the imperfectly perfect but shows other moms out there that this is just fine.
"Yeah, Im hiding in my closet," one of her videos begins. "You bet I am, because theyre out there. The children are out there, and theyve been on me for the last three days."
The family had been snowed in for days, Sproul explained, and the snow days rolled right into the Christmas break.
"We have baked all the cookies and the brownies," she said. "We have done all the activities. I have been fun. We have crafted, and I am done. And I have two. more. weeks!"
So, Ashley suggested, if any childless couples are thinking about whether to have kids and have any doubt in their minds about it, "dont do it," she said.
"Think about it, give it some thought," she said. "Ok? All right? Promise?"
In another video, she talked about her daughter's bad day and what she did about it drew a nice warm bubble bath for her daughter and then pleaded with her to be nicer to her mom after it.
It seemed to work out OK, Sproul advised other mothers, because her daughter called her later and said, "Mom, I love you," really fast, before quickly hanging up.
"Nailed it," Sproul said, shaking her head up and down.
TikTok Businesses Make Viral Moments Too
Many businesses large and small have also found that the TikTok platform lends itself well to unusual marketing campaigns and high customer engagement.
One of the most recent examples was a viral do-it-yourself TikTok video by creator Alexis Frost, which featured a steak quesadilla with fajita veggies from Chipotle.
Fellow food critic Keith Lee, meanwhile, piled on, stitching himself into the Frost video with some footage of Chipotles honey vinaigrette mixed with sour cream.
Chipotle has since turned the Lees "Keithadilla" and Frost's Steak Quesadilla with Fajita Veggies into a digital menu item at 3,200 restaurant locations, after the videos netted 30.6 million views and 69,500 shares.
"TikTok has not only changed the way we communicate with Gen-Z, but it's proven it can identify areas of opportunity within our business," said Chris Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer. "With the launch of the Fajita Quesadilla, we are celebrating Keith, Alexis, and all our superfans who were craving this delicious customization while prioritizing support for our employees."
Pocket Change Is Good
Sproul, too, has found her new platform not only empowering, but upon occasion, lucrative.
While Sproul doesn't do as much as she could with that she has turned down most sponsorships because they didn't feel authentic it has, nonetheless, at times provided her with a secondary stream of income.
The sponsorship she's proudest of, though, didn't come with any monetary reward. It was a video she did for the Western Governor's Association, after she received a diploma from them for her teaching degree.
"Western Governors actually reached out to me and asked me to kind of like run their Instagram page for a day," she said. "And then also to make some videos of like a day in the life of a Western Governors student who is a mom of three and who lives in Wyoming."
Not only was it "pretty cool," Sproul said, but it fit what shes trying to do with her feed overall.
"It's just to kind of get my face out there and to just say like, this is the world we live in," she said. "Dont be scared of it."
Censorship Is Unpopular
With millions of people like Sproul using TikTok for news and views, it could make it difficult for the United States to easily unwind the TikTok app.
In fact, two federal judges halted Trump's efforts to ban TikTok already, citing at the time free speech violations and executive overreach.
"This is a platform for free speech," Sproul said. "For information. And I think when the government gets in and tries to take that away, not just regulate it, but take it away, I think everyday American people are a little bit more like wait, wait, wait, if youre doing this to this app, whats next?"
To Sproul, the larger question that the whole TikTok banning debate misses is the overall data mining that all social media platforms are doing, regardless of nationality.
"They're basing the ban on what could happen instead of what has already happened with our privacy and our information with Meta, and Google, and Apple, and all that has already happened," she said. "So, I dont know, it just seems more to me like its not just a TikTok ban. Its like we want to control the information that we put out, and they can do that with U.S.-owned companies easier."
Sproul prefers the company's solution to store user data in Texas, which TikToks chief executive Shou Zi Chew outlined during recent testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"I think our information, our online footprint is already accessible to anyone," she added. "It just seems odd to me that this is the ban. We're gonna go hard on this social media company, and not the ones in our country that have admitted to maybe not having the best practices for our online information."