If you haven’t heard of the app that has taken over the internet by storm in the last few years and entered the lives of one billion people, then you are either probably a member of the Baby Boomer generation, or live under a rock. Tik Tok, the video-sharing app has billions of posts, an endless feed, and millions of popular creators to capture the attention of people all over the world. In 2020, TikTok was the most downloaded app in the app store, and many spent their days in quarantine scrolling through to see people dancing, cooking, sharing resources, bartending, gardening, traveling, educating, and spending their surplus time at home in creative ways. The app has allowed creators to develop an intimate bond with their followers. Creators can respond to comments and even make a video reply, host live streams where they can talk to followers in real-time, and “duet” or “stitch” (more kinds of video replies) videos from others.
The main feature of TikTok is the “For You Page.” Although when you first encounter the app, it may seem generalized and uninteresting. But as soon as you start engaging, liking, commenting, and following accounts, your feed will transform into an endless flow of videos tailored like a glove to the kinds of content you’ve shown interest in. If you invest even slightly in finding the content you want to see, you will reap the benefits tenfold.
So much so that there is a good chance you will come across a video of someone who looks like you and they say “If you’re seeing this video, you have x, are y, and have done z.” And it will probably be accurate, confirmed by the comments that acknowledge the accuracy of the algorithm. The For You Page is essentially a breeding ground for rabbit holes and endless opportunities to procrastinate whatever you should be doing.
TikTok is a breeding ground for communities, as you enter your niche content and find creators who are doing what you love well and engage with their content, you can easily form a bond with that creator and other followers. When given the platform and opportunity, creators often create merchandise, have giveaways, and host meet and greet opportunities where you can take something that was formed online and give it a space in real life. Lives are shared and changed on TikTok and it can be the space of some beautiful and good things.
However, problems arise when you take a closer look at some of these communities that have been formed on TikTok. Though many socially and racially marginalized communities have carved out a space on the app, if you pay attention, you will find that across the board, no matter the basis of the community, there is one complaint: censorship. Just to name a few, creators in the LGBTQ, black, indigenous, Samoan and pacific islander, Asain, transgender, and nonbinary communities have claimed that their videos are taken down, muted, or flagged for violation of TikTok’s community guidelines for various reasons. Additionally, these creators, many of whom have thousands of followers, complain that even though they get thousands or millions of views and likes, at some point their content stops doing well. Followers report not seeing their videos on their For You Page anymore, and the engagement with content drops dramatically for seemingly no reason.
This phenomenon has been labeled “shadow-banning,” and it is a common occurrence among marginalized communities on TikTok.
To understand these issues better, let’s take a closer look at when they started.
The year 2020 will live in our minds with infamy.
It’s the year the world went into quarantine in response to Covid-19, the year we watched the United States violently ripped into two sides in a presidential race, and the year we finally paid attention to racial injustices. After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Breonna Taylor, America turned to face the ugly head of police brutality and systemic racism. The people responded by taking to the streets in some of the largest protests America has seen since the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. They also rescinded with a desire to learn more about the experiences of people of color and to hear the voices that were continuously erased or drowned out.
One of the ways this happened was on TikTok, and this CNN article shows how much of an impact TikTok had on the Black Lives Matter movement. Black creators saw a massive increase of engagement with their content and gained thousands of followers. They provided resources, shared personal experiences, and provided real opportunities for people to learn, grow, and become more empathetic and loving people who are dedicated to removing their blind spots and being helpful allies.
Some creators organized protests locally and would share the information on TikTok, or attend protests and video their experience. These are the videos that started to be taken down on TikTok. And these are the creators who first started to get shadow-banned by the app. Despite seeing huge increases in follower engagement in the summer, it seemed as autumn came the cause was dropped by many people. But this is not entirely the case. People who followed some of these creators would comment and say that they had not seen any of their videos in weeks, despite constantly liking and commenting on previous videos.
Since then, the problem has spread like a disease across several communities, linked by marginalization. Now, Anishinaabe creators who protested the development of Line 3, an oil pipeline that violated treaties and destroyed the local environment, saw a similar occurrence, as well as gay and lesbian creators whose videos are literally silenced when they talk about hate crimes and transgender people who demand justice for the murders of black transgender women.
Don’t believe me yet? Lets take a look at some real people’s experiences on TikTok.