Limited by my abilities, resources, and time, I could not feasibly gather my own participants and interview them to find out if their own experiences ring true with the creators who have been shadowbanned. So instead, I will rely on the compilation of user experiences gathered from academic and peer reviewed sources. An article from the journal from the Association for Computing Machinery titled “Algorithmic Folk Theories and Identities: How TikTok Users Co-Produce Knowledge of Identity and Engage in Algorithmic Resistance” details the personal experiences of folks of all different genders, races, sexual orientation, education level, and income. As they explored issues of social identity and TikTok’s algorithm, one participant commented on the connection between the algorithm and social biases based on appearances,
“If you’re a person of color, if you’re overweight, if you’re not conventionally attractive, I imagine… that’s just the way society has always been. If you are a pretty white person, you’re probably going to get more of a chance than a black person, or a white person who is maybe heavier than you, or a white person that maybe they don’t have a face that’s as symmetrical as yours.”
An Indian creator who was interviewed put it quite plainly,
“I feel like being brown puts me at a disadvantage as a creator.” A different Asain creator held a similar sentiment saying that, “It does give you a disadvantage maybe because I do feel like white people are more successful on TikTok.”
The consensus is clear that creators of color feel that because of TikTok’s algorithm, they have a harder time reaching their audience, maintaining engagement, and gaining new followers.
According to some creators, TikTok also removes their videos from their followers’ feed.
But not only does this censorship occur on the basis of traditional beauty standards and race, it also occurs by class as many popular creators showcase their large homes. As one participant described it as,
“Very nuclear, very white picket fence. It’s almost always big houses. The ones where if you ever went in them, your friend’s house, afterward you’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s a mansion’ kind of thing.”
These kinds of videos are the ones that creators of color feel like the algorithm boots and spreads around more, while another participant wishes there were more videos from middle class black people on her For You Page,
“…I didn’t see everyday Black people who lived in apartments that I could see like, ‘Oh yes, that’s an apartment.’ I recognize the aesthetic of an apartment in a, not that great, neighborhood…It almost made me feel like I didn’t quite belong on TikTok, because I don’t have great lighting. I’m not going to buy a ring light to make Tik Toks, that’s just not going to happen. It’s the sun, it’s the fluorescents, or it’s nothing.”
From the same journal, another study called “For You or ‘For You’ ?: Everyday LGBTQ+ Encounters with TikTok,” written by Ellen Simpson and Brian Semaan, seeks to document the experiences of the LGBT community. One participant, a Two Spirit Native American lesbian reported that one of her videos was taken down by TikTok,
“I had a video taken down where. . . I went from one outfit to another, and I guess somebody reported it. I’m not sure; it didn’t tell me exactly what part of the guideline it violated. . . they don’t tell you what part it violates.”
Another participant brought up a nonbinary creator they followed who’s account was banned entirely,
“They are very funny, and they have been. . . shut down by TikTok. . . it was their fourth account because they keep making content that TikTok does not like and that pushes the boundaries a little bit on their community guidelines.”
Here’s a video from a gay creator showing the videos that TikTok has taken down from his page.
These experiences show that censorship by TikTok does not always happen on such grand terms and demands for justice. It also happens in the day-to-day scrolling done by these communities. According to TikTok’s algorithm, the perfect creator is white, upper class, meets western beauty standards, cisgender, and heterosexual.