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How to be a TikTok activist: a guide for the privileged

This week I finally did it. I put a 30-minute screen time limit on TikTok. I recognize that about half of the people reading this will relate to what I just said, while the other half will think “Those darn kids and their ticking Toks.” Worry not, I too used to be a part of the latter. If it weren’t for it being so popular among my friends I would probably still be thinking that. 

I entered this unknown world looking for cringey teenagers dancing, and while I found plenty of that, I also realized how much of a platform it is. Truth is, TikTok is only popular because “anyone” can be famous on it. It’s amazing how all it takes is one good TikTok, and soon you have thousands of comments and likes. So, one good idea. That’s all it takes for anyone to be famous… well, not really. 

Toward the end of Winter term, I walked in on my roommate filming a TikTok. The situation was funny, the TikTok itself was not. Still, this prompted me to follow his account. There were few videos here and there, including hilarious ones about college life, which received minimal attention. Until he posted one, using his position as a white, straight, athletic male, calling out the toxic masculinity of a republican account. Users went wild over this one, garnering more than 150 thousand views. Comments included “KING”, “I stan”, and “y’all believe in love at first sight?”.  

When I saw this I was thrilled. If we’re giving people a platform, let it be because they’re creating conversation against oppression. Even more so when it comes to an issue about toxic masculinity. To my delight, this type of content kept coming, now shifting towards other issues like women’s rights and gay pride. With more videos of course, came more and more views.

Because I was watching and liking his content, more of the same kind started to show up on my “For you” page. When I say more of the same, I mean more white people talking about race, more men talking about women’s rights, and cishet people talking about LGBT rights. On one hand, I don’t blame these creators, as they’re using their position of privilege to uplift the voice of the oppressed. On the other hand, it feels cheap. Like they know that discussing others’ struggles will guarantee them success. 

This success only comes from the fact that these users’ main demographic is white, upper class, cishet, young girls. They love to hear about the wokeness they think they represent, yet they mostly want to hear it from people (mostly men) that they are interested in.  

The algorithm for TikTok sure does not help. It’s been criticized for putting down creators who do not match up to bullshit “attractiveness” standards which have been found to be influenced by race, disability, weight, and social class. So privileged people watch other privileged people discussing the underprivileged, while the underprivileged themselves are removed from the conversation. Not the first or last time this has happened. 

I guess the way I feel is best represented by a TikTok:

boopyape(@boopyape) on TikTok: did i stutter #fyp #foryou

Another part of this that has been bothering me is how quick people are to praise allies. Why do you deserve praise for believing black lives matter? Imagine someone standing up on a stage, and yelling out “Cancer is bad,” and immediately everyone starts applauding. “Kween,” and  “omg I’m literally in love with you,” they shout. Sounds ridiculous to me. How about instead we praise the black person who has been fighting for their rights since birth?

I am not particularly comfortable with the idea of the attention concerning oppressed folk being shifted towards people in positions of power. However, TikTok is not representative of a just system, and so I am of the opinion that if underprivileged people are being ignored, I would rather the attention be on allies than those who are indifferent or intolerant.

To allies, I say: while these movements will welcome and appreciate your efforts, they’re worth nothing compared to the endeavors of the oppressed. Want to be a true ally? Listen first, then make sure this activism does not end in TikTok. Make sure that it’s present in your everyday actions, especially when it comes to supporting underprivileged speakers and content creators. And yes, that includes other TikTok users.

Aside from that, keep the TikToks coming, I’ve got 30 minutes of my day to fill.

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