With TikTok banned, millions of talented voices have gone quiet. And a cacophony of criticism has taken their place. Users of other, purportedly more “elite”, social media platforms have been expressing mock gratefulness for the ban on the “cringe” space, and are trolling former TikTokers for their bygone content. Out of the 59 Chinese apps banned by the central government in the wake of rising tensions between India and China, users of TikTok have fallen victim to the snarkiest and most hateful reactions.
While a segment of the social media community from Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter encouraged TikTokers, many of whom have lost their livelihood and fan following, to make a shift to other platforms, a separate segment is vehemently opposing this. In a very ugly manner.
TikToker Trolled by Friends
Sidhant Kothari, a former TikTok user, made public a series of screenshots from a WhatsApp group chat, on his Instagram profile. The messages expose the bullying Kothari was subjected to, from his friends, when he suggested that he would shift his video content from TikTok to Instagram’s IGTV. He was met with a volley of homosexual slurs and violent abuses, with people calling him a “faggot”, “chakka”, and even going so far as to say that he should “die and do a good deed for the world.” This, despite Kothari’s clear pleas, imploring them to stop hating on him.
Kothari’s appeal brings out an important, and rather ignored, aspect of the implications of the TikTok ban – that of the loss of a safe zone for the LGBTQIA+ community, and the resultant homophobia.
Also Read: The Not-so-Humorous Homophobia
TikTok was one of the few platforms that had managed to successfully democratise content. It had streamlined people from every background and assimilated them into one large room where they were co-existing with each other without fear of judgment. As more people were increasingly finding an identity on this app, class and gender lines were beginning to blur for the better. It was especially heartening to see a lot of gender-defying content come in from rural India that doesn’t conform to urban standards of masculinity and femininity. Men were crying on video, people were cross-dressing, displaying same-sex attraction – it was all colours and rainbows. This was great for members of the queer community, who were finding solidarity here to embrace themselves without fear, and their experiences were beginning to be normalised into the mainstream.
Comments from the LGBTQIA+ Community
Now, with the TikTok ban, there is one less channel of expression for them.
Ankit Tiwari, a 23-year old member of the LGBTQIA+ community from Bhopal, says, “Whenever I used TikTok, I always appreciated the fact that unlike other platforms, I could see more people from my community getting their due recognition and appreciation through it.” He feels that the discontinuation of the app could have been executed better, since “privacy concerns are fair but a blanket ban is not.”
The algorithm of TikTok is such, that once you like queer content, similar content will keep popping up on your profile, Kartikey, 23, explains. “I used to see a lot of good, positive, funny, and entertaining stuff people from the community were making. But the catch was that due to internal categorisation of the content, not everyone was seeing queer creators. However, I have seen homophobic comments on TikTok too,” he says. Although safety for the queer community was not assured on TikTok too, users agree that it was definitely more representative than other social media.
21-year old Hiranya, who is a member from the community, admits that she deemed TikTok “cringe” and for Gen-Z initially, but later on she realised that “there were people as old as 85 who I would follow and the ‘cringe’ factor just came from a place of privilege that I had to acknowledge.” She continues, “Out of all the platforms, TikTok was one of the places where I saw an LGBTQIA+ person, a person of colour, people of different classes and abilities at every swipe. TikTok has been a one of a kind place…that is a huge loss, not just for the LGBTQIA+ community, but intersectionally.”
There have been experiences from the world over from the LGBTQIA community on how TikTok was a significant part of their journey towards acceptance. The New York Times reported that on TikTok, a tinier world of Lesbian TikTok exists, where members of the community head to find love. Rachael Thompson, a 20-year old from Texas, USA, said, “A lot of my straight friends will be like, ‘Why don’t you just meet people in real life?’ But it’s hard to know if someone’s gay sometimes, and it can be kind of anxiety-inducing to bring that up with people.”
Users are Hesitant to Upload TikTok Content to Other Platforms
Ankit, who is also an avid Instagram and Facebook user, said that he is not entirely comfortable with the idea of uploading his TikTok content to these platforms. “I have a lot of family on these accounts. So I would have to modify my work accordingly as per the specific needs of the platform,” he says.
Allies of the queer community are equally let down by the TikTok ban, with no disregard for national safety, since they feel the scope of TikTok was extensive. 22-year old Tarini says, “I have seen a lot of lovely content from people from the LGBTQIA+ community… it created a positive and accepting space for people to express themselves.” On being asked if she would upload her TikTok videos to Instagram now, she says, “Not at all! Something about TikTok was extremely non-judgemental and pushed you to be silly and crazy. That’s not true of a platform like Instagram in my experience.”
Rebekah Awungshi, 22, who is based in Delhi, echoed the sentiment, saying, “The vibes were completely different on Instagram and TikTok. Instagram feels more grown-up and permanent. TikTok felt like you could do and be whatever or whoever you want and nothing could stop you.”
While people, both from within the queer community as well as from outside it, try to grapple with the after-effects of the TikTok ban, we must ask – why does any platform have to be exclusive? Why can’t every app offer the comfort, the acceptance that TikTok did? How can we democratise content for every social media platform? The answers to all these, invariably, begin with us.
Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author’s own.
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