Inside the app that has innovated a new way to create
Turnout was low at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 21. According to the “TikTok teens,” or teen users of the “TikTok” app, this was due to a strategic protest they organized through the app. The strategy was as follows: people who disapprove of President Trump would reserve tickets for the rally, although they had no intention of going.
This way, many of the seats would be empty. When reports came out that the turnout was low, TikTok teens “[took] a victory lap for [their] fake reservation campaign,” said NBC News. The Trump campaign denies that the actions of TikTok's teens had any impact on turnout. However, if this claim were true, and teenagers organized such a powerful demonstration against the President, it would highlight how much power TikTok has.
But how does the app utilize this power?
It is easy to see the appeal of TikTok. From a vast library of special effects to hosting new dance challenges every few months, it has many attributes that can draw users in, namely young users. According to 14-year-old creator Micah Edwards, the appeal of Tik Tok are these features. “You can put anything on there...it’s very easy and very simple,” she told me.
As a five year veteran, Micah is well versed in the app.
Often, she utilizes it to upload dance videos, as dancing is something that she loves to do. Micah is not an anomaly either. In November 2019, Reuters reported that “About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24."
While Micah is two years shy of this cut off, she and many users in that age segment are part of what we call “Gen Z,” or the generation born amidst the boom of technology. Being that they were born into technology, it makes sense that an app like TikTok would appeal to this generation.
Yet, it does not come without flaws.
It all started with "The Renegade." Earlier this year, Jalaiah Harmon, a 14 year old creator, created a dance to "Lottery" by rapper K. Camp that users called "The Renegade."
Quickly, this dance grew to popularity, yet Jalaiah's name was omitted from recognition. Instead, the dance was attributed to white Tik Tok star Charli D'Amelio. Once word got out that Jalaiah was the dance's actual originator, conversations were sparked about plagiarism as it affects Black creators.
"This is a pattern we see over and over, especially when it comes to black artists and performers. Black creators have their work stolen all the time by white individuals who profit from the work solely because they are deemed more palatable by a wider audience," wrote Leigh Green for Noteworthy blog.
Due to a New York Times article, Jalaiah finally got her recognition and performed the dance at the All Star Game (see below). Yet, TikTok's controversy does not end there.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a billion dollar company that "surpassed Uber as the world’s most valuable startup," according to Vox. In November 2019, TikTok was under investigation by the U.S. government, according to Reuters. Some lawmakers were "concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data."
This adds on to a controversy that surfaced in February 2019, when CNN reported that TikTok was hit with fines for selling data on children. For anyone, these scandals would raise concerns, as TikTok has found its place in the hearts of many young adults like Micah. However, these teens are not blind to the flaws in the app.
“I do not love Tik Tok. It is racist. I like it,” Micah said. She went on to talk about shadow banning, which is the process of partially blocking a user’s videos from being seen. NPR said that Black TikTok users "feel like the app is targeting them" with shadowbanning. In her interview, Micah echoed this sentiment.
I do not love Tik Tok.
Micah Edwards, 14 year old Creator
When asked her reasons for calling the app racist, Micah noted that white TikTok users discriminate against minorities, and they are allowed to, but Black TikTok users’ videos get taken down “for no random reason.”
Because of this alleged censorship, some Black users have chosen to divest in the app altogether, while others now use it to disseminate information about what’s going on right now.
Although many would lean toward the former, the latter can too be an effective protest, if Trump’s failed Tulsa rally is any indication. This leaves one question remaining: is Tik Tok a friend or foe? ~ℝ
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