For many of us, TikTok has become a place of learning new things- new dances, recipes, or crafts. On the other side of that enlightenment, however, is the truth that TikTok can also be a harmful place for folks who are trying to raise awareness for specific identities/communities. As anti-trans legislation continues to pass throughout the nation, more and more content creators are sharing their stories– whether of harm and discrimination, or of their personal experiences.
TikTok’s algorithm is always hard to navigate or predict, but once a video goes viral it can open a creator up to hate. This includes videos being reported and entire accounts being deleted. For some creators, this means more than just losing ‘likes’ — they end up losing money and partnerships as well.
In 2020, TikTok admitted that it had “shadow-banned” several hashtags related to the LGBTQA+ community. In 2021, many creators said their accounts were deleted without warning and with false claims that the content of their videos violate community guidelines. Independent researchers, Media Matters, have found that TikTok’s algorithm pushes users who engage with transphobic content into even more extreme content, specifically, far-right misinformation and violent hate speech.
Since these stories came to light, TikTok has made public strides to be more inclusive to the community, banning misgendering and deadnaming trans people. Yet even with these prohibitions, trans creators still receive hate.
Has the damage been done? Many trans creators are trying to create an inclusive space of education or simply post about their lives, yet in exchange, receive coordinated hate from users. Can we hold TikTok accountable for these attacks?
How can this platform be both a space of education and a space for trans people to be themselves? If you’re on the app long enough, you can see just how much the platform fails trans people once their videos go viral. It leaves their identities and lives up for debate by transphobic individuals who make hateful comments or report videos until accounts are deleted. Some even take it a dangerous step further and post people’s personal information (‘doxxing’ them) by stitching or dueting their content. Entire pockets of the TikTok community launch harmful “investigations” into creators based on questionable claims that are often rooted in classism, racism, and transphobia.
One teacher took to TikTok to talk about how they couldn’t be “out” at work as a non-binary person (for them this meant dressing colorfully, with rainbow hair, etc.). The post went viral and during a school board meeting, parents met to speak out against the teacher and their dress choices. Individuals and groups came to this teacher’s defense, and as of this writing, it’s unclear what will come of this situation. It remains unforgivable that this teacher has been “outed” and used as a political tool within their district in the first place.
How can TikTok and allies do better when it comes to protecting trans joy? How can TikTok continue to be a space of education and celebration? It can only happen when, and if, TikTok decides what it can do about transphobia and misinformation, and takes real action.
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