If you’re like me and the countless other late-20s, early-30s users who joined TikTok out of quarantine boredom these past few months, you’ve quickly discovered that the social media app is largely dominated by Gen Z. With its focus on short clips (like nailing 15-second choreography set to cue Doja Cat’s “Say So”), the app is extremely popular among the young and trendy. But as silly as TikTok can be, lately, the social media platform has been seeing a surge in socially-minded content to reflect the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Like Twitter or Instagram, the app has become a tool for activism and community building. In other words, TikTok is growing up.
TikiTok's influence was particularly apparent yesterday. The app’s users claim to have played a role in the low attendance at President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to the New York Times, hundreds of TikTok users—and K-pop fans who in the past have also drowned out the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter—encouraged each other to file more than half a million ticket requests for the rally, leading organizers to think its 19,000 seat capacity would be sold out. In reality, only about 6,200 Trump supporters showed up, a fraction of the venue’s capacity. “I think I sold that same place out in five minutes, “ tweeted the singer Pink. This was more just than a clever prank; it was a successful form of protest against a president who continues to deny Americans basic human rights.
TikTok users have also used their platform to acknowledge Black Lives Matter over the past few weeks. Suddenly, dance breaks were supplanted by more meaningful content: demanding justice for Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, sharing information on how to be a proper ally, and highlighting Black-owned businesses, among other posts. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has over 12 billion hits. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok US, told CNN that the app’s notable shift in content simply reflects the current world that we are living in. “TikTok is an outlet for users to express themselves. This expression is often joyful, but our community is going through a time of particularly deep anguish and outrage, and much of the content on the app this week clearly reflects those experiences,” she said.
But TikTok hasn’t always been so inclusive. Last year, after the app faced criticism for burying content from queer, fat, or disabled creators, TikTok admitted that its algorithm may have played a role in suppressing the reach of creators who could be considered “vulnerable to cyberbullying.” The app claims these discriminatory policies are no longer in use, though racist videos and challenges continue to populate app.
Still, despite its ongoing flaws, TikTok’s woke userbase seems to be recognizing the increasing power they hold. Others outside the TikTok universe are recognizing it, too. “You think those TikTok teens could impeach the attorney general for us,” asked one Twitter user today, referencing William Barr, who is currently facing pressure to be impeached. “Shout out to Zoomers,” said U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez today, acknowledging the Gen Zers who “rocked” Trump’s rally, adding: “Y’all make me so proud.”