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President Trump's executive order banning TikTok in the U.S. may have an unintended consequence. Four thousand American teachers might lose their jobs. As NPR's Bobby Allyn reports, language instructors working for a service called GOGOKID say they're being unfairly targeted.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Two years ago, Kristie Hunter started teaching kids in China how to speak English. The former elementary school teacher did this from her home in South Carolina through an online program called GOGOKID. It's owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance.
KRISTIE HUNTER: We used to think it was pretty cool. You know, we worked for ByteDance. They're this huge tech company. They own TikTok. Like, that's super cool, right?
ALLYN: But Trump's executive order aimed at ByteDance turned that cool factor into something else - dread. The president's order bans transactions between U.S. citizens and all of Beijing-based ByteDance's subsidiaries.
HUNTER: Then I got to the part where it said, you know, all transactions between people. I was like, that's talking about me. Like, that's me.
ALLYN: The maximum possible penalties for violating Trump's order are stiff - a $300,000 fine or criminal prosecution.
HUNTER: I could be put in jail for teaching a 5-year-old how to say hello across the computer.
ALLYN: Big fines and jail time are extremely unlikely for GOGOKID teachers, but the order is written very broadly. That's according to Justice Department lawyer Brian Fleming who used to enforce sanctions for a living.
BRIAN FLEMING: A lot of that may have to do with the leverage that the U.S. government is trying to apply to ByteDance in terms of forcing the divestiture of TikTok and sort of having as broad an order as possible kind of hanging over their head.
LINDSEY JACOBS: We're collateral damage. And it's frustrating to see this continued battle going on around us and no one knows that we exist.
ALLYN: That's GOGOKID instructor Lindsey Jacobs, who lives in Oklahoma. She uses the income to pay for her kid's swimming club and occupational therapy for another son who has special needs.
JACOBS: If I don't have that income, how does my younger son have therapy?
ALLYN: A spokeswoman for GOGOKID would not say whether they plan to keep operating after September 20. That's when the order takes effect. Kristie Hunter, the teacher in South Carolina, says the pandemic means there is more competition than ever among teachers looking for remote work. She's been discussing Trump's crackdown with dozens of other GOGOKID teachers. For some, this is their primary source of income.
HUNTER: We've got families that could potentially lose their homes and lose their savings because of this just broad stroke of the pen for this, quote, "national security risk" (laughter).
ALLYN: The Commerce Department is responsible for enforcing the executive order. Officials at the agency did not return a request for comment.
Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.
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