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06/08/2020 The Communication Science magazine

(Straight) TikTok: Land of Homophobia and Stealing from Black Creators

Danny calls for tolerance in this opinion piece about bias in TikTok. The time has come for integrity, inclusion and diversity in this decade’s social media monster.


The video-sharing social media platform has taken the world by storm, strongly consolidating into teenage internet culture. Despite TikTok’s positive aspects, from dance challenges to funny pranks, many underlying issues exist, revealing a dark and twisted side. It’s time to take a look at the controversies of this divided app and its users. 

The stealing of content, racism, and homophobia have been issues circling TikTok for quite some time. There has been an absurd amount of racially insensitive and homophobic content, from saying the n-word to disrespecting and robbing content from queer people and people of color. This happens daily, without checks and without punishments. People of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community on TikTok are not treated equally to Caucasian and straight users. The TikTok algorithm has also led to a division: gay vs straight TikTok. 

Modern Appropriation of Black Dance Culture

Dance challenges are usually created by one individual person. As they become famous, they become viral, spreading like wildfire. A famous example is the Renegade dance challenge, created originally by 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, who originally posted the dance on Dubsmash and Instagram. TikTok users replicated the dance and posted it without crediting Jalaiah, and other users hopped on the trend without ever knowing the original creator. Jalaiah was distraught. This is only one example out of dozens.

Eventually, Jalaiah was rightfully credited in the TikTok community as the original creator. TikTok staple users such as Charli d’Amelio and Addison Rae, from the notorious predominantly white ‘Hype House’, invited her to teach them the dance moves to showcase this to their wider audiences. Jalaiah now appears on top of the page for the embedded Renegade dance sound even though it has far fewer views and likes than the other main Caucasian TikTokkers posting the dance. 

Credit where Credit is Due

If someone starts a trend on this embedded audio and other people replicate it using the same, there is technically nothing stopping the algorithm from pushing their video to the bottom until TikTok HQ manually intervenes. These audios usually feature copyrighted music purchased by the app’s developers for users’ content. They do not count as original sounds. That is why it is not an individual’s original sound to be credited for. Therefore, videos from (mainly white) TikTokers with more followers and views, will be shown at the top of the page for that sound, with no credit to the person that started the trend, usually black creators.

On the contrary, if an original sound in a video is made and people replicate it, that user will be automatically credited as the original at the top of the page for that sound, no matter how many likes and views they have received. However, if TikTokkers use their sound without doing it through the app (a third party device, for example), that original user won’t be recognized as the owner. If it goes viral, that sound is pinned as the original, and that person’s own voice or music is not linked and therefore no one will ever know it came from them. These are one of a few ways how trends, started by black creators, go viral without the proper credit.

Bigoted Algorithm?

But that’s not the only aspect that is twisted: the TikTok algorithm heavily promotes Caucasian users over any other demographic and heavily censors LGBTQ+ content. The algorithm prioritises mainly white, conventionally pretty, and most importantly straight TikTokkers in the discover page and your default For You-page until you find your niche. That is why TikTok beginners end up on two ends of the spectrum: straight TikTok or gay TikTok.

Gay TikTok vs Straight TikTok

With the rise of the E-boy trend, staple straight male TikTokkers like Lil Huddy and Josh Richards – also from the Hype House – have been able to amass millions of followers and instant name recognition by everyone on TikTok. Apparently, countless of other male TikTokkers was inspired to take it further with their tone-deaf homophobic jokes and pranks (also the TikTok side where most of the racism and tomfoolery come from). These people have realized that joking and playing with sexuality and masculinity would gain them attention and praise. An epidemic started.

A well-known case is the ‘’is kissing the homies gay’’’ prank, where straight boys ask their fellow ‘’homies’’ if it’s gay to kiss them and if they say ‘no’, they have to do so. Another example is the ‘’would you be gay for a million dollars?’’ challenge, where they have to choose to either be ‘’straight’’ or ‘’gay for a lot of money’’, and the video always ends up being them initially choosing the former while ‘’secretly’’ choosing the latter in a (un)’’ funny’’ way. And most infamously, there is the prank where straight boys thought it would be funny to ‘’come out of the closet’’. Meanwhile, their peers are kicked out of the house, bullied, assaulted, and even killed for coming out as gay, as called out by James Charles. 

What these ‘’jokes’’ have in common is that these people treat being gay as a funny joke for nothing other than clout. It gives a sense of a false narrative that they don’t adhere to toxic masculinity for their viewers, even though everything about it is still heteronormative. With their female followers eating it up in the comments, their mindset is that putting out content like this will garner them approval and attraction from girls. 

TikTok: The Most Addictive App on Social Media

It is important for people on TikTok in the dark about these issues, to be aware of this, so they can hold others accountable and report their content. This way, the algorithm will be less inclined to continue recommending harmful and offensive videos. The algorithm knows what people want to see based on what videos they like and which users they follow, so be sure to support the right creators and content.

The gay TikTok community has been very outspoken about this, and it is a place that will continue to be welcoming towards teens that are still trying to figure out their identity and to speak out against injustices towards black and other POC communities.

 

Cover: Antonbe


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