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Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s Steady Hand

TikTok had more downloads in the U.S. (34.6 million) during the first six months of the year than its top two competitors—Instagram (17.7 million) and Snapchat (14.2 million)—combined, according to analytics company Sensor Tower.

Vanessa Pappas

Vanessa Pappas

Photographer: Rozette Rago/The New York Times/Redux

A year ago, President Donald Trump wanted TikTok to be sold to a U.S. buyer, claiming the app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance Ltd., was a threat to security. TikTok’s high-profile CEO, hired from Walt Disney Co., had recently left, and Facebook Inc. (now Meta Platforms Inc.) was copying TikTok’s short-form videos. There were fears the app would be forced to leave the U.S. market.

Pappas, who took over as interim CEO last fall before switching to COO earlier this year, helped keep the company together during the turbulence. The pressure on ByteDance to spin off TikTok disappeared when Joe Biden took office, and Meta’s copycat products haven’t left lasting damage. In a pandemic that’s kept people at home and glued to their phones, TikTok’s 1 billion monthly active users generally spend 45 minutes per day on the app, according to research from investment bank Cowen Inc., more than any social media app besides Facebook. Now Pappas, a former YouTube executive who moved to TikTok three years ago, is the public face of the app in the U.S., helping navigate deals with the NFL, the NBA, and other pro sports leagues; running the company’s office in Los Angeles; and overseeing relationships with content creators.