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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

This week in TikTok: A viral song sums up brands’ BLM posts

Surprised that TikTok has gotten political? You shouldn’t be.

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email rebecca.jennings@vox.com, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

There’s a song I’ve had in my head for days, and it goes like this: “Graphic design is the cure to racism! Graphic design, it will make the world fair!” I heard it via a TikTok video by Joy Oladokun, who is an actual singer even though this one was obviously a joke about corporations slapping illustrations on their social channels and calling it solidarity. Much of my life lately has been spent scrolling through Instagram, where it’s a sea of black squares and cutesy graphics, and every time I see a new post from a brand with a terrible track record on employee treatment touting allyship, I think of Oladokun’s song: “Graphic design is the cure to racism!”

Hers is only one example of the tons of TikTok videos about the events of the last few weeks, which is why I’ve seen some headlines like NPR’s “TikTok Pivots from Dance Moves to a Racial Justice Movement” and “The TikTok generation of my kids is not only better informed but more politicized,” or this sentence in the New York Times: “Alongside short videos of a hamster jamming on the piano and an incredible watermelon carving, there are scenes of the protests against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and a history lesson on the 1921 massacre of residents of a black neighborhood in Tulsa.”

But why should we be surprised? TikTok has been a place for politics for as long as people have been using it, despite the company’s best efforts to keep it a place for the lighthearted and the goofy. In January, I wrote about how TikTok is perfectly primed for rapid information-spreading because it takes short videos, often of people’s faces, and can make them go viral even if the poster has only a handful of followers. In conversations around social media activism, TikTok is only going to play an even greater role.

TikTok in the news

  • Last week, TikTok said it would launch a creator diversity council to “uplift” videos from a less homogenous swath of users. This, after more than a year of allegations that TikTok’s algorithm favors white accounts and censors posts by black creators.
  • Speaking of, Lauren Strapagiel at BuzzFeed conducted an experiment on TikTok’s filter bubble effect to show why your TikTok feed may not have that much protest content. Strapagiel created one account and only liked videos from black creators, then created another and liked videos that had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, mostly from white creators. Unsurprisingly, one of the feeds had significantly more protest content, and on the other, you may not have even been aware a protest was happening.
  • Please do not do a “Black Lives Matter makeup tutorial” if you are not black.
  • The witches of TikTok have helpfully cast hexes on cops.
  • Thoughts and prayers to the neighbors of the Sway House.

Meme watch

Among the more darkly funny trends to come out of this week are white teenagers clowning on their racist families. “I haven’t been on TikTok the last week because I moved my ass over to Facebook. I’ve been tearing my racist family apart,” one girl laughs. Another girl’s video of a reenactment of her arguing with her Republican father over dinner made it onto Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, where he watches in horror. (The creator of the original video is not pleased.)

Hanna Lustig at Insider wrote about the more depressing side of these videos, where teens realize the beliefs of their parents may mean never speaking to them again. A 15-year-old named Izabella made a video about her family’s response to the killing of George Floyd while crying. “I literally hate my family so much,” she says. “I hate living around these racist fucks. I just wanna leave.” One 22-year-old said their parent would kick them out if they went to a protest. The videos are both sad and heartening, as TikTok offers a space to vent for kids whose home lives are less than welcoming.

One Last Thing

Here is a baby with very good cheeks saying, “Thank you, mama,” over and over again as his mom hands him food and I am crying now!


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