Cardiff Garcia, Stacey Vanek Smith On The Housing Market During Coronavirus : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders Home sales are up, but the number of people facing evictions is also up. Sam talks to The Indicator's Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia about the good and bad news of the housing market in a pandemic. Then, TikTok is massively popular around the world, but now it's under fire from the Trump Administration due to national security concerns. We hear from NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn about the latest on the social media upstart and what a proposed ban has to do with China and user data.

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The Good, Bad And Ugly Of The Pandemic Housing Market, Plus TikTok Under Fire

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The Good, Bad And Ugly Of The Pandemic Housing Market, Plus TikTok Under Fire

The Good, Bad And Ugly Of The Pandemic Housing Market, Plus TikTok Under Fire

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/901956796/902713975" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: We're tracking tomorrow at 10 a.m.? Is that the plan?

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Aren't we tracking now?

GARCIA: We're doing the show right now?

VANEK SMITH: Yeah.

GARCIA: Oh, [expletive]. I didn't know that.

VANEK SMITH: We're pre-recording. It airs...

GARCIA: Oh, my God. I didn't know that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, I was like...

GARCIA: I thought this was, like, the pre-interview thing or whatever. OK, hang on. Let me go...

VANEK SMITH: No.

GARCIA: This is not - are you serious?

VANEK SMITH: This is not a drill, Cardiff. This is not a drill.

GARCIA: I was so relaxed. I was like, whatever. Like, this will be fine.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

GARCIA: OK. This is - this is a whole new thing.

AUNT BETTY: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week on the show, the good and bad news of a pandemic housing market. All right. Let's start the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. Happy weekend to my listeners, to my guests. And my guests, gosh, two of my favorites, if I'm being honest, two all-stars - Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia, hosts of The Indicator podcast from NPR. Thank y'all for being here.

VANEK SMITH: Thank you, Sam.

GARCIA: Any time, Sam.

VANEK SMITH: So good to hear your voice.

GARCIA: Great to be in the same proverbial neighborhood.

SANDERS: I know right? I know, Cardiff, you're a little mad because you thought we were...

GARCIA: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Taping this show a day later.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

SANDERS: But I'm glad you made it. I am.

GARCIA: I'm not mad. I'm glad we're doing it.

SANDERS: (Imitating Cardiff) I'm not mad.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: It's just - it hasn't quite been a minute. It's been 55 seconds for me. So, you know, I'm listening.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Cardiff, I'm glad you're here. And Stacey, we just had you on - what? - two, three weeks ago. So thanks for being a returning champion.

VANEK SMITH: I always love being on your show. It's like a light at the end of the tunnel. It's always so nice.

SANDERS: Oh, I appreciate it. Now, last time we talked, you were having some AC issues. Like, there was an air conditioning unit or not. Was that resolved?

VANEK SMITH: I have an air conditioner.

SANDERS: Hurray.

VANEK SMITH: And I love it so much that I have named it. I'm not telling you what I've named it. But I've named it, and I love it...

SANDERS: OK, you can't just tease that and not tell me.

GARCIA: Yeah, come on.

VANEK SMITH: I can't tell. I can't tell you what I - no. No.

SANDERS: Please. Please.

VANEK SMITH: I should not have said anything.

GARCIA: She calls it Mortimer. Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: It's too embarrassing.

SANDERS: No, it's not too embarrassing. Go ahead.

VANEK SMITH: It's too embarrassing.

SANDERS: Is it named Idris Elba? I've named my fiddle fig plant Idris Elba.

VANEK SMITH: Oh.

SANDERS: What is it called?

GARCIA: Yes.

VANEK SMITH: I named it Coolio.

SANDERS: Aah.

GARCIA: (Laughter) That's a throwback reference.

VANEK SMITH: Don't laugh at me (laughter).

GARCIA: I like that.

VANEK SMITH: No. I know.

SANDERS: Also Cardiff, last - I remember also for a while in this lockdown pandemic moment, you were going on, like, night runs through Manhattan. I love that. Is that still happening?

GARCIA: Absolutely. It keeps me sane. It's super fun. I run past Grant's Tomb, which is in this kind of random...

SANDERS: OK (laughter).

GARCIA: ...Spot in New York City every single night.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, in Riverside Park.

GARCIA: Yeah. And by Riverside, it's like the people's monument, you know? You can run right by it. And that is my 19th-century bearded president.

SANDERS: OK.

GARCIA: Nothing but respect.

SANDERS: Yes. Two New Yorkers surviving apocalypse in New York.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, this is so unfair. Cardiff's going on, like, night runs and appreciating history, and I named my air conditioner.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: You can't put these two things side by side (laughter).

SANDERS: Oh, I love it. I love it. Well, Stacey, Cardiff, you both host a daily podcast about the economy. And I want to talk about a part of the economy that has been making me scratch my head. We're in the midst of this major recession. We all know that by now. But in the midst of this recession, unlike the last recession, the entire housing market has not crashed. There are parts of American housing doing really, really well and other parts doing pretty, pretty bad. And I want to break down this kind of best-of-times-worst-of-times moment for the American housing market. And no better two folks to do it than y'all. I think it'd be fun to start with the upside, the good stuff, the positive numbers. Stacey, go ahead.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, no. It's actually really shocking. When I saw this story, I almost couldn't believe it. Between May and June, home sales rose by 16%, which is the highest jump on record.

SANDERS: Even as unemployment is, like, record high.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah. I mean, we're, like, at, you know, almost depression-era levels of unemployment, and home sales are setting records. I mean, it's all relative, but it's crazy news. So I called up Glenn Kelman. He's the CEO of Redfin, which is, like, an online real estate brokerage. And he said, oh, yeah.

GLENN KELMAN: Well, it's white-collar professionals who are able to work from home. In some ways, this is a sign that the economy has just officially split in two. You have people who are working in restaurants or wishing they could work in restaurants and service industries who are worried about unemployment benefits running out. And at the same time, you have other people who are able to work from home and thinking about the home all the time, and that's where they want to spend their money. These are the people who are really benefiting now because even if the economy is going through a crisis, for them it's not a crisis. It's just a sale.

VANEK SMITH: It's a sale.

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

VANEK SMITH: I know.

SANDERS: So all of these office employees in white-collar jobs in, like, San Francisco or LA or New York or D.C. or Boston, since we all know at this point we might be working from home well into the new year, they've just said screw it. I'll go buy a house in Kansas?

VANEK SMITH: Everybody's leaving. Yes, this is the crazy thing. So what Glenn said was - you know the old real estate, like, location, location, location, right?

SANDERS: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: He said the first question everybody always asked when looking at a property was, like, what's the commute? Is it near a train? Is it near, like, a highway that'll get me to work? Where is it? And he said people don't care about that anymore. Everybody wants space now. So searches for houses in towns of less than 50,000 people at Redfin are up, like, almost 90%.

SANDERS: Stop it.

VANEK SMITH: And...

SANDERS: Wow.

VANEK SMITH: Everybody's basically taking the amount of money that they could, you know, rent, like, a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with and buying, like, a house with a yard. So they're not spending less money - they're just shifting it. Everybody wants space. And Glenn said, like, the open plan is dead now. Everybody...

SANDERS: My God.

VANEK SMITH: ...Wants a whole bunch of little rooms...

SANDERS: Listen - me, too. Yes.

VANEK SMITH: ...So that, like, everybody can do their Zoom calls in little offices. People want home gyms - you know, like, the Peloton thing. And it is just all about, like - everybody's, like, homesteading. They're going to rural areas, small towns, small cities.

SANDERS: Wow.

VANEK SMITH: They're leaving big cities.

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

VANEK SMITH: And this is just this crazy trend. Yeah.

SANDERS: Stacey, hearing you say that - you know, for years, if not decades, we have seen this push for people to move back into the cities, have their homes in dense urban areas, and, as HDTV has shown us for years, get that open floor plan. And so for you to say now, in just a few months, we've abandoned the open floor plan and fled the city, how big of a tectonic shift is this for American housing?

VANEK SMITH: I mean, I think it's pretty huge. And the reason that I actually think this shift might be permanent is that now that people have invested real money in living remotely, I think it's going to be really, really hard to get them to come back to the office. In fact, Glenn said that he surveyed the employees at Redfin to ask about coming back to work. And he said only, like, 14% of them said they wanted to come back to the office.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: And he was, like, I don't know why I'm renting, like, four floors in downtown Seattle and spending all that money that way. Like, it looks like we're just going to fully go remote.

SANDERS: Wow.

VANEK SMITH: And so when that happens, like, we can all basically live wherever we want. And, of course, the three of us - Sam, you're in LA, Cardiff's in Manhattan, I'm in Brooklyn - like, we're all in areas that we probably are in for work. But if we can live anywhere, you know...

SANDERS: Can I live in Hawaii? Can I live in Hawaii?

VANEK SMITH: Yes. Yes, you can. Yes, you can.

GARCIA: IT'S BEEN A MINUTE - your Honolulu bureau. Yeah.

SANDERS: Exactly.

GARCIA: Why not?

SANDERS: Exactly.

GARCIA: You know?

SANDERS: Do either of you know any people leaving New York?

VANEK SMITH: Yeah. Almost...

GARCIA: Oh, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, I mean...

GARCIA: Yeah, a lot.

VANEK SMITH: I actually don't know that many people who are still here. I mean, Cardiff and I are, like, holdouts...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Because everybody...

SANDERS: Yeah, what's keeping y'all there? Do y'all want to leave?

VANEK SMITH: You know, I've actually been kind of been thinking about this a little bit. I do love New York, you know? It's my home.

SANDERS: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: And I've kind of liked that I've been here the whole time through all this.

SANDERS: Cardiff, what about you? You going to leave?

GARCIA: No, I'm not. I thought long and hard about it, though. And I ended up just now re-upping my lease...

SANDERS: Wow.

GARCIA: ...For another year to stay in the same apartment. To be - you know, I feel like I have roots here now, too. I've been here for a very long time. And the truth is, I'm not sure even with all the problems facing cities there's anywhere else that I necessarily would want to be. So I did have to think about it, but I'm staying.

SANDERS: You're staying.

GARCIA: This is home, for better and, possibly in the near future, for worse.

SANDERS: Wow. Wow. I love it.

VANEK SMITH: (Singing) New York.

I feel like this is when the Frank Sinatra song...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: ...Fades up.

GARCIA: Yeah.

SANDERS: See, I was going to fade up the "Dreamgirls" song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AND I AM TELLING YOU I'M NOT GOING")

VANEK SMITH: Oh, yes.

SANDERS: And you and you and you - you're going to live in an apartment. Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let's pivot now to the other side of the housing market. Cardiff, apparently, we are very close to a rental eviction crisis across the country.

GARCIA: Yeah. We're getting closer and closer. And I think there's a few things to keep in mind here. One is that this is kind of exacerbating a situation that was already quite bad. In other words, there was already thought to be a rental housing affordability crisis even before the pandemic hit. But now things have gotten a lot worse because renters, and especially low-income renters, are kind of facing a double catastrophe right now.

The first is that we know that unemployed, low-income renters tend to be disproportionately concentrated in exactly the jobs that are threatened most by the pandemic. So these are jobs in retail, jobs in bars and restaurants. And what's happened is that unemployment benefits, which had been expanded as part of the CARES Act that was passed by Congress back in late March - the expanded part of the unemployment benefits program has now expired, and that's going to really hit the incomes of these low-income folks who rent.

And the second is that there had been a lot of moratoriums on evictions, and most of those have expired just at the end of July, which means that you have millions and probably in the tens of millions of people who are now, you know, at risk of being evicted or at least, you know, having landlords who filed to evict them in the coming months.

SANDERS: Well, yeah - and this is the thing about eviction. When you lose your housing like that, it can take you years to fully recover. You know, everything is just in shambles for a long time. And if these evictions begin to happen, do we know how much of a negative effect those might have on the economy and just people's lives?

GARCIA: Oh, yeah. It's hard to quantify, but it's one of the most brutal and wrenching things you can possibly experience. And the economic effects of it are, of course, going to be catastrophic.

And, I mean, at this point, we're starting to get some initial data, but we already know that about a fifth of renters were unable to pay their rent on time in July. And almost a third of renters have said that they have either no confidence or only just slight marginal confidence that they'll be able to pay their August rent. So the problem has already started, and it's going to take quite a big intervention by policymakers if they want to stop it.

VANEK SMITH: Just going off of what Cardiff was saying, I spoke to one economist who said that she thought the difference between a recession and a depression is people losing their homes. That is what will make this crisis look like the Great Depression rather than, like, the Great Recession that we saw 10 years ago.

SANDERS: Wow. So then knowing that, do we yet know what the government's going to do about all this? Federal government, individual states, you know, we're kind of just waiting to see if there'll be more moratoriums on evictions. But it seems like - I don't know, are they happening yet? Will they happen?

GARCIA: No, not yet.

SANDERS: Wow.

GARCIA: I mean, so far the president has tried to take some unilateral actions, but they don't really amount to much. I mean, this would require another big bill from Congress to actually put a dent in the program. One thing they could do is they could actually, you know, assign funds to help out renters. But more likely, it would take reimposing those expanded unemployment benefits, maybe putting in place those moratoriums again and anything else that would get income into the hands of the renters themselves, which could help them avoid being evicted and also to keep the payments going to landlords, who normally are not very sympathetic people in a story like this but who actually - like, they also have...

SANDERS: They owe mortgages.

GARCIA: ...Bills to pay on the mortgages - yeah - for those properties. And if they can't make their payments, then you've got possibly a financial crisis...

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

GARCIA: ...Because they owe money to their lenders - including to the banks. And so this can really have these reverberating effects down the line.

SANDERS: Yeah. What does this stark divide in the housing market say about America and the American economy itself? On the one hand, home sales are booming. On the other hand, 30 million Americans could be evicted from their apartments. What does that say about us as a nation?

GARCIA: I think you just said it - right? - like, by asking the question, you know?

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, the economy is - it's so divided.

SANDERS: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, I think this is the problem, right? Things are getting really split. And that's always been, like one of the great things about our country is the ability to - you know, the idea of, like, through hard work and through sort of ingenuity, you can make this great life for yourself. And it's seeming like that's less true.

GARCIA: And another one of the tragedies is that in just a year or two before the pandemic hit, we were finally starting to see wages in low-wage industries, wages for Black Americans finally start to rise faster than for white Americans after having lagged for a very long time, which suggested the economy was finally getting to the place where it was starting to benefit communities that traditionally had been left behind. And then the pandemic hit and has essentially reinforced those preexisting inequalities. So, I mean, amongst many other tragedies, that is another one to add to the list.

SANDERS: Oh. Well, I'm hoping things look up. It is time for a break - I don't even know how to go to break. We're just - we're going to to take a break (laughter).

GARCIA: Sorry, Sam.

SANDERS: Look up, America.

VANEK SMITH: We're going to take a break (laughter).

GARCIA: We don't like bringing you down, man.

VANEK SMITH: I know.

GARCIA: But journalism.

SANDERS: Hey, the truth is the truth. America, keep your head up. After the break we're going to play a game. It's called Who Said That. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. We'll be right back.

We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders, joined this weekend by Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia, the co-hosts of NPR's podcast called The Indicator, all about the economy. And it's really good. Y'all should listen to it. Stacey, Cardiff, question for you both.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah.

SANDERS: How much do you all like airplane food?

VANEK SMITH: I mean, I'll eat it, you know? I will eat it.

SANDERS: Would you ever go out of your way to get airplane food at home?

GARCIA: It had never occurred to me. Like, why would I do that?

SANDERS: Well, you're missing out. Apparently, the hottest, newest trend sweeping the globe are people who are in lockdown because of coronavirus and can't really fly right now, they are ordering airplane meals to their homes to eat them. And I don't know how it's happening but...

VANEK SMITH: Is this their side hustle? Is this, like, United Airlines' side hustle?

SANDERS: The Wall Street Journal reported this week that about 40,000 snack packs from Imperfect Foods, that were supposed to go to JetBlue and some other airline, they were sold to travelers. In Australia, this in-flight catering company called Gate Gourmet, they began to sell meals online around June. At one point, it sold out. In Indonesia, they're doing the same thing there as well with this promotion called Fly With Meals. People really want that stuff.

VANEK SMITH: What?

SANDERS: What are y'all most nostalgic for from our old lives, speaking of people missing airplane flights?

VANEK SMITH: It's so weird. I miss, like, shaking hands and hugging people. I like touching people. That's weird.

(LAUGHTER)

VANEK SMITH: Don't - that could be edited very badly.

SANDERS: Anywho (ph), I'll tell you one thing that hasn't stopped in the midst of the pandemic - the world's best game, Who Said That. Let's play.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA")

KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?

PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?

SANDERS: Don't sound so excited.

(LAUGHTER)

VANEK SMITH: I know...

GARCIA: Listen. Let me tell you something, man. I've been on this show a few times. I've never once gotten a single right answer on Who Said That.

VANEK SMITH: Oh.

GARCIA: Not once.

SANDERS: Today's your day.

VANEK SMITH: It's beautiful because I am - as terrible as I am at this game, Cardiff might be worse. And I...

SANDERS: Oh (laughter).

GARCIA: It's not a competition. The only competition that matters is the one with our best selves, OK? Everything else doesn't count. All right.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

SANDERS: It actually is a competition. But hey, you call it what you want to call it, man.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Well, y'all know how this game goes. I name a quote from the week. You have to tell me who said it. And yeah. There's no buzzer. Just yell out the answer. All right. For this first quote...

VANEK SMITH: OK.

SANDERS: ...I'm just going to play the audio for you. And you guess who said it or who they were talking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYA RUDOLPH: I love going to the show. Any excuse I can get, I love. I just didn't really anticipate traveling during a pandemic. But if there's anyone that can work it out, I'm sure Lorne has some sort of invisible helicopter that can get me there.

SANDERS: Who said that?

VANEK SMITH: Is this, like, a "Saturday Night Live" thing? Is this, like, Lorne Michaels?

SANDERS: Yes. Who would be talking about working more in this moment given the news of this week? Someone who does an impersonation of someone who had a big week.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, someone who does Kamala Harris. Is it...

GARCIA: Maya Rudolph.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

VANEK SMITH: Maya Rudolph. No. No.

SANDERS: Yes. Cardiff...

GARCIA: Yes. Yes.

VANEK SMITH: No. Cardiff got it. No, that's not fair.

GARCIA: I'm the Susan Lucci of Who Said That, the streak avenger. Yes.

VANEK SMITH: No. No, you're not. No. You never would've gotten that point without my information.

GARCIA: What?

SANDERS: (Laughter) So that quote comes from Maya Rudolph, "SNL" alum. She has impersonated Kamala Harris on "SNL" a lot. And this week, she, like the rest of us, found out that Kamala Harris has been selected as Biden's choice for VP.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah.

SANDERS: And Maya Rudolph heard that news when she was recording a panel discussion with EW and other Emmy nominees. So in the midst of this panel, Angela Bassett breaks the news to Maya Rudolph on a Zoom call. It's kind of cute.

GARCIA: Yeah.

SANDERS: OK - next quote. With everybody being stuck at home and reexperiencing family time together, we thought it would be fun to enjoy some family time in a throwback '90s environment. What is the ultimate throwback '90s environment?

GARCIA: Throwback '90s environment.

SANDERS: Where would you go in the '90s for a new release of a maybe movie?

VANEK SMITH: A movie theater.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: A movie.

GARCIA: Blockbusters.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

VANEK SMITH: Oh, Blockbuster Video.

SANDERS: Yes. Yes, Cardiff.

VANEK SMITH: This is spending the night at Blockbuster Video. Oh, no.

SANDERS: Blockbuster Video - Cardiff got that one as well.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, my God. Who - where...

SANDERS: So those quotes...

VANEK SMITH: This is not right.

GARCIA: What?

SANDERS: Cardiff's got two.

GARCIA: What?

VANEK SMITH: We are in the upside down.

SANDERS: So that quote comes from Sandi Harding. She was talking to CNN. She is the store manager of the world's last Blockbuster Video. It is in Bend, Ore. In a special pandemic event, right now, for $4 a night, you can spend the night in the last Blockbuster Video store in the world. It is fully decked out for a 1990s blast to the past. CNN says there's a makeshift living room with a big era-appropriate TV, a VCR, a pullout couch, a beanbag chair. And you can watch whatever video you want because Blockbuster.

VANEK SMITH: Oh.

SANDERS: This space is available to rent for three nights in September. Would y'all ever, Cardiff or Stacey, spend a night in a Blockbuster Video store?

VANEK SMITH: I 100% would. And I would watch the whole FBI warning.

SANDERS: Wow.

GARCIA: Yeah. Sam, you have to understand that Stacey and I have mad '90s nostalgia, you know? Like, my second guess was going to be a grunge music concert. And I would've hit that, too. So, you know, absolutely.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness. All right. Here's the last quote.

GARCIA: OK.

SANDERS: We're all here together tonight. F that COVID S.

VANEK SMITH: Is this from that Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in, like, Ohio?

SANDERS: And who was the band playing?

VANEK SMITH: Is it the Insane Clown Posse or something?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: This is a band that everyone can sing along to but no one wants to admit that they actually like.

VANEK SMITH: Nickelback.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: I'll give you some of the lyrics. Hey, now. You're an all-star.

VANEK SMITH: Oh.

SANDERS: Get your show on.

GARCIA: Smash Mouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Yes, Smash Mouth.

(LAUGHTER)

VANEK SMITH: Oh, my God.

GARCIA: Oh, my God.

VANEK SMITH: Cardiff is 3-for-3. And I got zero. This is terrible.

SANDERS: That quote was uttered by Steve Harwell. He's the lead singer of Smash Mouth. And on Sunday, August 9, at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D., Smash Mouth headlined a concert for a bunch of bikers. Apparently, the festival brought in 250,000 motorcycle enthusiasts. And, you know, you're not supposed to be doing big things like concerts right now. But Smash Mouth said literally, F that COVID S. I mean...

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, man. And COVID ran crying.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: All I'm saying is, if I'm going to risk the pandemic to go to a concert, it better be Beyonce.

VANEK SMITH: Right?

SANDERS: Smash Mouth? Come on. I don't know about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL STAR")

SMASH MOUTH: (Singing) I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.

GARCIA: Have I ever told you, Sam, that Who Said That is my favorite game?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, I appreciate that.

VANEK SMITH: You know that I am never going to hear the end of this - ever.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: On that note, I am going to let you two New Yorkers get off to hopefully a happy New York weekend. Stacey Vanek Smith, Cardiff Garcia, hosts of NPR's The Indicator podcast. I really appreciate y'all's time. This was quite fun.

VANEK SMITH: That was so fun, Sam. Thank you.

GARCIA: Thanks, Sam.

SANDERS: All right - time for a break. Coming up, we're going to talk about TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. So whether you use it or not, by now, you have heard of TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

MY NGUYEN: I'm making a low-carb sandwich...

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Here's another style from my...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: TikTok is America's newest social media craze. It's full of mostly cute viral videos of lip syncs and dances and harmless pranks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) Renegade, renegade, renegade, renegade.

SANDERS: It's all really cute. But over the last few months, TikTok has gotten a lot more political.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Trump will just be speaking to an empty crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Bro, that's crazy. Y'all TikTokers are making Trump mad, bruh.

SANDERS: That TikTok there - it's from this past June, when TikTokers mobilized to reserve tickets they didn't plan to use for a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. A lot of folks think that's part of the reason that rally was very sparsely attended. TikTok is actually owned by the company ByteDance, which is based in China. A lot of national security experts say the Chinese government could somehow use the app to spy on Americans. Last week, after months of talking about it, Trump signed an executive order that could effectively ban TikTok in the U.S., in large part because of those security concerns.

I called up NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn to make sense of all this. He has heard from a lot of TikTokers who are convinced that that potential TikTok ban is just retribution for the Tulsa rally prank.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: And every time, I have to reply and say, yes, that did happen. But the White House's concern with TikTok far predates the Tulsa rally. I mean, it's been going on for more than a year.

SANDERS: You know, it's so interesting to see right now TikTok, which was this social media platform that, for a while, was very, very happy - young people or young folks with their parents having fun. Not even TikTok could stay untainted. Now we're in this moment where TikTok is in the middle of a political fight. And it just confirms this belief for me that eventually, without fail, any good part of the Internet will at some point become bad.

ALLYN: Right. Yeah. I've talked to national security types who are these, like - you know, these wonks in Washington who work at, like, fancy think tanks and just, like, sit on, these days, like, Zoom panels all day talking about foreign affairs and national security issues, going on TikTok and saying, wait. There's a national security concern here? Really? Like...

SANDERS: I know because it's so cute.

ALLYN: I mean, the last time I went on TikTok right before this interview, the thing that popped on my FYP, my For You page - it's like the feed - was Kamala Harris dancing to an overdub of NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye." Now, it was a pretty funny TikTok. And it got a lot of traction. I mean, is it a national security threat? I don't know about that (laughter).

SANDERS: Wow. Exactly. Exactly. So I want you, to the best you can, kind of sum up what the deal is. Like, how did this drama over security and Trump and TikTok start? And where is it now?

ALLYN: Yeah. The shortest answer is China. So...

SANDERS: OK.

ALLYN: (Laughter) Yeah. But - so as TikTok's popularity was really surging in the U.S. - and it really is the first Chinese-owned app that got really big in the U.S. And as more and more and more people started using it and, especially during the pandemic - I mean, their usage just, like, went through the roof - people in the White House were like, well, how much data are they taking? And who gets that data? And what, potentially, could the Communist Party do with that data? And so those are the..

SANDERS: Because before the pandemic, there were concerns about what data the Chinese government was getting from TikTok. And the Trump White House had these concerns for a while now, right?

ALLYN: Yeah. They've had the concerns for a while. And it comes, obviously, as there's sort of a cold war happening between the U.S. and China. And TikTok is sort of caught in the middle. And what a lot of people will point out, Sam, is TikTok takes just as much data - your personal contacts, your location, your Internet browsing history - takes all that but, so do most apps by big tech companies, like Facebook and Google.

But the key difference here is in their terms of service. If you really take a microscope and look at the fine print in their terms of service when you download TikTok, it says, we can share all that data with our parent company, ByteDance - which is in Beijing. And people who are smart and study Chinese law say there are laws in China that make it really hard for companies to resist requests for information. So in theory, the Chinese Communist Party could say, hey, TikTok, give me all that information on Sam Sanders. We want to learn more about him. And they could say, here you go. What will they do with that information from there? That's a whole separate debate. But the fact that it's just possible that Chinese authorities can get this data is freaking out the White House.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things about the Internet that just makes me sad is that, eventually, every space, every new space becomes ultimately negative and political. You know, when Twitter started, it was fun. And now it's not. When Facebook started, it was, like, you talking to your friends. And now it's just, you know, your grandma floating conspiracy theories and your friends from college fighting over politics. Like, are we seeing the same thing happen with TikTok? As it gets older, it gets more political? And is that lifecycle of a new, shiny, fun thing becoming negative and political getting shorter?

ALLYN: Yeah. You know, months ago, TikTok got into some trouble about censorship, and they have problems with censorship in the Hong Kong protests, some pro-China censorship. There's been people who have said Black Lives Matter post have been censored. And that's another sort of big concern - that because it's Chinese owned, are moderators in Beijing pulling down content that China doesn't want to see on its platform? That is very much up for debate. But there is increasingly more and more political content on TikTok, both young people who are discovering activism for the first time, which is pretty cool, but also some really dark types of - I don't even want to call it activism, just hate. I mean, the Anti-Defamation League just put out a report saying that white supremacists are increasingly turning to TikTok and embedding hateful messages on videos. So heartbreaking.

SANDERS: No. Nothing gold can stay. Oh, my God.

ALLYN: I know. It's really, really heartbreaking. So to your point, like, it's a lot of fun, and it's a great way to spend your time flipping through TikToks and sharing them with all your friends and family. But there's a dark side to it. There's a really ugly side to it. And it's not happening to the same degree as we're seeing on Facebook and Twitter, but I think you're right that it's just a matter of time.

SANDERS: Yeah. Well, I'm going to end this interview now, but I'm going to hit you up offline to have you teach me TikTok 'cause I just can't do it.

ALLYN: (Laughter). Well, I'll do a song, Sam, and then I'm going to force you to do a duet. And then we can have our bosses decide who was better. How's that?

SANDERS: Oh. Oh, my goodness. Done. I'm in. Let's go.

ALLYN: All right. OK (laughter).

SANDERS: Awesome.

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SANDERS: Thanks again to Bobby Allen for joining me. He's a reporter for NPR covering business and tech.

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AUNT BETTY: Now it's time to end the show as we always do. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag, and they do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.

ROBIN: Hi, this is Robin (ph), and the best thing I did this week was I got a haircut. And I just wanted to give a shout-out to my incredible, talented stylist for really raising my spirits.

KIRK: Sam, it's Kirk (ph) from Ohio. The best thing this week was Monday, when my sweetheart flew in to move in. We've had long-distance romance the last two years. I almost feel guilty being so happy in the midst of the pandemic. We are perfect for each other.

AMANDA: Hi, Sam. This is Amanda (ph) from Portland, Ore. And the best part of my week was heading out to the coast with a small group of friends and spending hours sitting around a fire, singing and laughing and sharing stories. It was such a bomb (ph) to my soul.

DAVID: Hey, Sam. It's David (ph) from Chicago. Best part of my week were two date nights I had with my girlfriend. A couple of dates we planned for each other have been a movie theater at home with the works, like candy, popcorn and refreshments. This past weekend was a cute, little scavenger hunt and a candlelit dinner. They've been a perfect escape from reality.

SARAH: Hey, Sam. This is Sarah (ph) from Washington, D.C. What's made me so incredibly happy this week is hearing my daughter's laughter for the first time. I made a fishy face, and her laughter just melted my heart.

MARIE: Hi, Sam. This is Marie (ph) from Portland, Ore. And the best thing that happened to me this week is that after a decade of surviving on student loans, disability payments and racking up way too much credit debt, I received four months of unemployment and pandemic assistance payments and, today, made arrangements with a credit counselor to get out of debt. I can finally sleep at night. Thanks for everything you do. I love your show.

DAVID: I've been building up the courage to record one of these for a while, so I'm glad I finally have. Love your show, Sam.

SANDERS: Thanks to all those listeners you heard there - Mary (ph), Sarah, David, Amanda, Kirk, and Robin. Listeners, don't forget you can be a part of the segment, as well. Just record yourself on your phone and tell us the best part of your week at any time throughout any week. Send those recordings or voice memos to samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org.

All right. This week, the show was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry and Andrea Gutierrez. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. Our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. All right, listeners. 'Til next time. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.

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