I hate to admit it, but I have fallen into the trap of TikTok. COVID-19 made it inevitable. I have become hopelessly addicted to the app that has been the butt of so many of my own jokes. This app has brought me a lot of joy during a very dark time. Unfortunately, it only took a few days on this app for me to begin to feel uncomfortable. I have slowly discovered that TikTok often hides Black creators, Youtube influencers, Vine comedians, and almost all of Generation Z make up the TikTok that we think we know.
What we do not know is that there is a secret side of TikTok. It is referred to as many things: Social Justice TikTok, Black Lives Matter TikTok, Liberal TikTok, and so on. The Black voices on this side of TikTok are being hidden – this one thing is clear, no matter the name.
Censorship in paradise
A few months ago, the Guardian posted an article in which TikTok owned up to the censorship of their viewers. TikTok expressed a need to protect their creators from bullying by hiding videos with vulnerable content. TikTok claims that this is not a permanent solution, but six months later, there is no change.
As I used TikTok more, I began to notice many of my favorite creators making videos addressing censorship. These were creators that often spoke out in support of Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA rights, feminism, etc. It became clear to me that the only people being “protected” from bullying were those that had something powerful to say. I even began to notice that each time I left the app and returned my ForYou page would return to straight white women participating in cute trends with their dogs. Even it’s most devoted followers couldn’t see Social Justice TikTok,
And then George Floyd was murdered.
Many companies and platforms responded to this unforgivable act with support, whether it was genuine or not. Universities sent out emails, Businesses posted signs in their windows, and celebrities made donations. TikTok was not quick to follow in these footsteps. Videos of peaceful protests and police brutality would have thousands of likes one minute and disappear the next.
TikTok took it a step too far when it violated it’s own community guidelines that state violent content can be permitted if it is educational. TikTok creators rebelled by reposting videos that had been taken down as many times as possible and informing their viewers of what was happening. Somehow despite this being written in the community guidelines, Ti Tok was still allowing the muting of videos that could show the world the violence that Black Americans are facing every day, and creators were not having it.
An opportunity for rebellion
TikTok creators did not back down when their videos were muted or banned. In fact, the opposite happened. You may have heard about or participated in the Black Out Day took over Instagram and other social media platforms not long after protests spread across the nation. TikTok creators have actually hosted multiple Black Out days throughout 2020 to protest the discrimination that Black creators experience. On the same day that you may have seen celebrities and friends from home posting a black box to their Instagram feed and logging off for the day, Tik Tokers were doing something much bigger.
Black creators worked hard to create funny, entertaining, passionate, and often educational content all day long. White creators silently watched and listened. TikTok, for at least a day, became a space where Black voices were heard.
What do Black creators have to say?
I am a white woman, and therefore not qualified to speak on the effect that the TikTok Black Out Days had. Many creators are speaking about how the Black Out Days were not enough. Many creators are calling the Black Out Days a beautiful success. Rather than writing about what I have witnessed, I decided to ask a few Black TikTok creators how these days made them feel. Of course, in light of the current global pandemic, it is difficult to hold an in-person interview. So, I sent these creators a google form with a few questions.
Erynn C., also known as @rynnstar on TikTok, devotes her page to educating the TikTok community on issues that Black Americans face as well as Black History. I asked Erynn what the original intent of her TikTok page was.
This was her response:
“Originally the focus was just random skits but over time I talked more about culture and language and in the face of the BLM movement I’ve tried to educate on many aspects of systemic racism.”Erynn C
I asked Erynn C. what message she thought the Black Out days sent.
“Black people are out here, we make great content, and we deserve to be heard.”Erynn C
Black creator Jazmyn W., also known as @jazmynjw on TikTok, makes videos using comedy to discuss microaggressions and systemic racism as well as many other topics. I asked Jazmyn the following question:
“What is the statement you felt was made by the Black Out days that recently took place on TikTok?”
This was her response:
“The Black Out days was not only a TikTok platform initiative, it was something that was encouraged across every social media platform. I personally did not participate in this because I educate myself on racial injustice every day (and I live it). I don’t need a special day to turn off social to do this. Social media in many ways allows me to educate myself as my circle of friends and followers keep me updated oftentimes more accurately than the news. I feel the Black Out days were for people who needed to be informed or those who wanted to stand in solidarity and if that helped someone be more aware then I consider it a good thing.”Jazmyn W
Jazmyn said that she has always used her platform to speak out about microaggressions and racism because they are part of her life. As a comedian she wants to make content that is true to what she has experienced.
What is the next step?
TikTok has created quite the pickle for themselves. A mass amount of their users are liberals using this platform to fight for freedom for all. Somehow, despite this fact, TikTok has chosen not to value these users. They may have apologized. They may have allowed Black Lives Matter to trend on their discover page. The fact still remains that they are blocking users that are fighting against the racist social norms of our society. The fact still remains that, while TikTok claims that they wish to protect their creators from bullying they do not.
They do not take down content that violates their community guidelines by making aggressive statements towards people expressing anti-racist and anti-fascist beliefs. They do not always block users that spread hate to Black and anti-racist creators. It is clear that if TikTok truly wants the full support of their Black creators, they will need to do more.
In the form I sent, I asked what they would want to see from TikTok going forward.
“Give the originators their credit. Always have the original video first when you see a sound or a dance. HIRE BLACK PEOPLE INTERNALLY!”Jazmyn W
“Push more positive black content in all areas.”Erynn C
While I know that these two creators do not speak for all Black TikTokers or all Black people, their words embody what Black Lives Matter is fighting for. Black Americans are asking to have their voices heard, not only on social media but everywhere.
While TikTok has not been supporting Black creators the way they should, this does not mean that you can not support them. By liking and sharing videos made by them, you can turn TikTok into an educational experience as well as a fun one. The Black creators that I follow have taught me more than all of my history teachers combined. If TikTok will not value Black creators, then it is our job, as the consumer, to force them to.