Race, Queerness and TikTok: Solidarity and Safety in Algorithmic Culture

Research Cluster Academic Year
2020
Research Cluster Project Director(s)

Liz Grumbach | Assistant Director, Institute for Humanities Research 

Sarah Florini | Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, Department of English 

Description

The social media platform TikTok, which allows users to create and share 15-60 second videos using visual effects and pre-existing sound clips, now has over 800 million active users worldwide and 60 million in the U.S. alone. TikTok’s algorithm seems to function using a logic that differs from that of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While the latter platforms exploit conflict and serve increasingly extreme content to generate engagement (Tufekci, 2018; Vaidhyanathan, 2018), we've observed that, in the U.S., TikTok’s algorithm seems to identify and connect networks of marginalized people who have potential for solidarity across experiences and politics. This research cluster will explore, using contextual readings and hands-on app research, questions such as:

  • How does TikTok, as a company, foster or betray trust? 
  • How does the TikTok algorithm allow subcultures on the app to connect, and is TikTok a “safer” application for marginalized groups because of their highly tuned algorithm?
  • How do TikTok’s safety features both aid (by promoting mental health awareness and digital wellbeing) and also harm (by silencing or muting content by LGBTQIA+ creators, creators of color and activists) users?
  • What strategies do TikTok users deploy on the app to keep themselves safe (e.g., strategically liking posts, blocking similar content, scrolling before a TikTok ends, deleting negative comments and/or responding to negative comments via green screen effects), and are these strategies potentially pedagogically important?
  • What is the dark side of TikTok, i.e., how do memes like “tell us about yourself” trick TikTok users into revealing private information that may put them in danger?

Our goal is two-fold:

  1. To produce meaningful discussion that leads to a collaboratively authored, public-facing report or publication.
  2. To foster discussion about TikTok and solidarity amongst ASU faculty and undergraduate students.