Last summer, when protests demanding racial justice and equality covered the United States, TikTok experienced its own calculations.
In June, after the app demanded a power outage calling for fairer treatment of black creators amid accusations of censorship and repression of content, TikTok apologized, promising it would achieve a better result.
After all, the popularity of TikTok has been greatly aided by black creatives, whose trends, dances, and challenging ideas have often been collected and repackaged by white creators, thus encouraging online creativity for these creators.
“There can be no difference. Everyone should be able to post anything according to the guidelines and not worry about how they will perform based on their skin color,” said Noah Webster (18), creator of TikTok, with more than 551,000 followers. who goes to @ NoahMadeSMK1 next to the app.
In the apology, TikTok vowed not only to say it wanted a more diverse platform; he said he was working to make it happen.
“We also fully recognize our responsibility to not only wish and talk about the importance of diversity on our platform, but also to actively promote and protect it,” the statement reads.
In the eight months since the apology, the makers of Black TikTok have sparked mixed reactions to TikTok’s efforts to make the application fairer. Some said they noticed some positive changes, such as a more varied For You page – TikTok’s endless scrolling home page.
Mutale Nkonde, CEO of AI For the People, a nonprofit communications agency, said that since joining TikTok’s independent advisory board, the Content Advisory Board (not working for TikTok), in June, the platform has stepped up its capital market efforts and brought in more black advisors. recognized intersection of black experiences in social media.
Also in June, TikTok said in a blog post that it had held virtual discussions with Black creators to learn more about their experiences and how to improve them. Last month, it announced an incubator program and grants to invest in and strengthen the talent of black creative workers in employment.
But despite the efforts, some users have reported that problems around competition and equality persist.
“I feel like I should never have gotten to the point where they had to apologize for it. … After the apology, some things somehow became clear, but not much, because we mailed many times and they would take videos of things we didn’t even know. [why, but] white creators are doing exactly the same thing, their videos are still upstairs, “said 22-year-old Kaychelle Dabney, a content creator with more than 1.4 million followers who walk alongside @Kaychelled.” It’s like I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. “
The alleged inequalities included black-generated content that appears below similar white-generated content in search results, and videos receive only a few views when they are expected to receive more attention based on the creator’s tracking. Users also said that their content – be it dance videos or videos of racism or racial injustice – is sometimes removed without explanation.
“I made a video of some of the contradictions between POC creators and white creators and marked my video as hate speech, I think, and I wasn’t hateful at all,” said Marcel Williams, 22, creator of TikTok as a 1.6 million follower who passes by @Marcelllei.
Despite questions about TikTok’s competition, black creators say they are unwilling to find a way to prosper, even though they feel they have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts. Webster and Dabney are members of the Atlanta-based, all-black Collab Crib House, which paves the way for other black creatives to find success and thrive on social media.
Not a new problem
Just as Black Americans ’biases and prejudices are forced to navigate offline in our white-centric society, social media is a unique and often frustrating experience for black users – but despite the added barriers, black creatives have long been the backbone of language, humor, and trends. on social media.
Movements like the Black Lives Matter were also born of social media and came from the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter created by the hashtag Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after George Zimmerman was released in 2013 after the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin. , Florida the previous year.
Many of the 10 black artists interviewed by NBC News said they are experiencing bias and frustration on social media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. However, in addition to research by the Pew Research Center, the creators highlighted the importance of social media for social justice, which causes racial and racial injustice, as well as black culture.
Tia CM Tyree, a communications professor at Howard University, echoed the creators, saying the expropriation of black culture extends not only to TikTok but to all social media.
“Cultural appropriations are fully covered by TikTok and other social media. Black people have always been cultural guides in the United States,” Tyree said in an email. “While sharing and engagement is a central part of social media, human art can be shared, manipulated, and lost in the virality of culture. All of this can happen in minutes and the original black creators can be left without credit.”
TikTok was not immune to the acceptance of black trends by white users and the moderation problems that plagued black users on other social media platforms.
“Actually, I often talk to other Black and Color TikTok creators about this. Sometimes we send each other videos, ‘Well, look at this. I made this video yesterday and it didn’t go anywhere and this white artist did it and it exploded, ”Williams said.
One of the best known instances of black creativity hijacked by white creators at TikTok is the Renegade dance trend. The dance was started by the then 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, and it will be one of the biggest dance phenomena ever on the platform.
But this trend was popularized by white artists like Charli D’Amelio and others who didn’t initially appreciate Jalaiah for the choreography of the dance.
After The New York Times reported that Jalaiah had made the dance, it began to gain widespread recognition – but by then the trend had waned.
At TikTok, trends become more popular when the choreography of the dances or the settings of the jokes are repeated by other users – often spoiling the origins of the trends. That’s why creators feel so important about credit.
And this can affect not only the popularity of creators, but also their income. As creators gain momentum and have followers on a platform, financial opportunities such as brand deals and business partnerships emerge that can be extremely lucrative. If creators are not credited with popular trends, they can risk both recognition and pay.
Some creators have said that while white TikTokers are better able to credit black creators for their trends, it is only because they have been accounted for by black creators and their followers.
“If you don’t mark who made it, you’ll get more echoes than positivity,” Dabney said.
However, according to Tyree, the task is not solely for the users, and the company must also take responsibility.
“We need to remember that TikTok is not just an algorithm. It is not simply a platform. A multi-billion dollar company. Like any larger company, board and office diversity means change, not only in corporate culture but also in products and services created,” Tyree said. . “We still can’t blame users for what happens on the platforms. It’s the fault of those who create and nurture the platform, and it’s clearly those who control it.”
While some issues concern user interaction with content, TikTok as a platform is directly responsible for removing videos that it believes violate community policies. TikTok directs users to the specific rule that was violated when removing a video, but some black creators say their content was removed without proper explanation.
TikTok’s attempts and the creators’ response
Those who work on platform consulting at TikTok say the app is trying hard to fix the problems.
According to Nkonde, a member of the Content Advisory Board, the platform has taken into account the issues raised by black users and is working to make the platform fairer for everyone.
“In the case of TikTok, we have definitely put in place trust and security policies that respond and monitor,” Nkonde said. “I hope this has affected the rest of the industry because I know that when I worked with other platforms – Twitter, YouTube – the willingness and openness to listen, Facebook was also very difficult. Part of the TikTok brand is attention and transparency.”
TikTok has black employees and managers who it consults on how to improve the experience of using the app for all communities.
Last month, TikTok announced the launch of a three-month initiative called “TikTok for Black Creatives,” which focused on helping 100 black creators and music artists develop their skills to help “open the way to new heights in their careers.” company said.
TikTok has also created a support program for the selected creative team in collaboration with Macro, which represents the voices and perspectives of colorful people. Grants can be used to fund educational resources and to pay for production equipment and other creative tools.
Collab Crib members said they sometimes feel that TikTok separates black creators from white creators when creating measures, rather than involving more black creators in its general events. However, TikTok does not exclude individual communities from general events.
Some creators said they feel the platform’s efforts are still making a difference.
“Whether you’re Latin or Asian, whatever you are, I feel it’s a lot harder to go up to TikTok if you’re not white,” Webster said.
Despite the challenges and obstacles, many black artists have said they will continue to fight for their place on TikTok and stand up for an equal and fair platform.
“No matter what job you’re talking about. In America, black people have been told the same thing – someone always tells them, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ “And they never give up, so I don’t give up,” Webster said.