The popular social media platform TikTok is under scrutiny as of late. There have been different reports about the video-only platform, being biased towards creators of color.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, many creators of color said they’re going to exit TikTok because they have been bombarded with racial comments. Although TikTok has strict guidelines, creators of color who reported the alleged racial comments and accounts of possible trolls were in fact the ones who were “shadow banned,” a term used to describe being banned without knowing so but not receiving any views or comments.
TikTok user and cosplayer Charles Conley told the LA Times that after he was banned multiple times for unspecified reasons, he created a second account with less success.
“It’s so draining,” he said in his interview. “Having an application … actively sabotaging you and not backing you up, or saying that you are the perpetrator of these transgressions or aggressions — it gets beyond tiring.”
Another bias discovery revealed by TikToker Ziggy Tyler, who’s a member of TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, is the fact that certain hashtags such as “Black Lives Matter,” and “supporting Black people,” were flagged and considered “inappropriate,” whereas hashtags displaying the support for “White power,” were being accepted. Hashtags showing support for last year’s tragic death of George Floyd didn’t receive any views or likes. TikTok’s response was that it was a technical glitch.
“If I go into the Creator Marketplace and put ‘supporting White supremacy’ and hit accept, it’s OK,” the 23-year-old said in a TikTok video, which shows him standing in front of a Green Screen typing the above-mentioned hashtag on his Creator Marketplace’ profile.
In another video, the Chicago native shows that when he writes far-right expressions such as “I am a Neo Nazi,” the sentence is accepted but if he simply writes “I am a Black man,” the content is being flagged as inappropriate.
A spokesperson of TikTok told Insider that what Tyler was experiencing was a “significant” error due to an automatic filter created to block hate speech and words associated with hate speech.
“Our TikTok Creator Marketplace protections, which flags phrases typically associated with hate speech, were erroneously set to flag phrases without respect to word order,” said the TikTok spokesperson in a statement. “We recognize and apologize for how frustrating this was to experience, and our team is working quickly to fix this significant error. To be clear, Black Lives Matter does not violate our policies and currently has over 27B views on our platform.”
According to Recode, TikTok said that the systems picked up “die” in the word “audience” with the combination of “Black” and therefore flagged it, detecting it as hate speech.
TikTok also reached out to Tyler directly, without a response from Tyler, who told Recode that TikTok should have detected the issue sooner and also if the algorithm is the problem someone at their team should have addressed the racial controversies, as the marketplace has been around since 2020.
Regardless of TikTok’s response to the matter, Tyler is not the only Black content creator using the video platform, who shares disappointment and the opinion that TikTok is biased towards people of color.
In the past, the content of many marginalized people using the platform has been flagged or banned by TikTok, often leaving them questioning why their content had been silenced in the first place.
Another Black TikTok creator, Brianna Blackmon, who goes by the name “BJ From The Burbs,” experienced unfair treatment by TikTok as she posted a video in May of 2020, rapping about social justice which received tons of views and comments, only to find it being silenced by TikTok the next day. She told Wired the audio was removed, a common task TikTok does when someone violates its guidelines. However, Blackmon wasn’t informed by the company of which guidelines she allegedly violated, as it didn’t contain any foul language or hate speech. All Blackmon addressed in her video was Blackout Day, a protest of solidarity towards people of color using TikTok and claiming the platform inequitably censors them.
However, not only does TikTok often mute content that doesn’t contain any hate speech or foul language by Black creators but it also allows racial slurs left in comments by users, as Wired reported.
Wired exposed what treatment many TikTok have endured by other users commenting on their videos.
TikTok creator Jamia Morales shared that she was called the N-word, a monkey, and an “uneducated Black person.” Comments were coming from White users mainly, often without consequences.
Other content such as “Black face” or “Black fishing,” where someone who is White pretends to be a person of color often gets tolerated as well, such as Swedish influencer Emma Hallberg, who actually confirmed to be White but enjoys using darker makeup.
“People were leaving monkey emoji in my comments over a video where I was talking about clothes, something frivolous and funny, said another Black creator, Whitney Roberts, in Wired. “In another video, I was just talking about 4c hair, about a different grade of hair, and why people shouldn’t necessarily diminish it. That got taken down. But there are whole blackface videos that won’t get taken down.”
TikTok responded, on June 23, with a long apology letter to its TikTok community—specifically its Black community—reassuring its “commitment to diversity and inclusion,” as well as stressing the fact that the app wouldn’t allow any type of racism. Their priority is now to “elevate and support Black voices and causes.”
“We care deeply about the experience of Black creators on our platform,” a spokesperson of the company told The Times. “We’re committed to seeing that our policies and practices are fair and equitable.”
In addition, TikTok released a “diversity collective” to assist the platform’s proposition to cater more to Black creators and entrepreneurs by offering a business accelerator program.
TikTok rose to fame in 2018 and became the most downloaded app in 2019. It is mostly known for strange challenges created by influencers and creative dance videos. During the COVID-19 pandemic TikTok launched the Creators Fund which enables users to make money with their video views, and according to TikTok, “dream of using their voices and creativity to spark inspirational careers.”
Many Black creators tried to do exactly that, calling out cultural appropriation, racism, and inequitable treatment. However, instead, these users got silenced or banned, and although their accounts have been restored, many users are playing with the thought of exiting TikTok for good.