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TikTok: A hotbed of cultural appropriation, and why it matters

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Gen Z’s favorite app TikTok is the modern epicenter for cultural appropriation – why you as a business owner should care.

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TikTok creator with a phone recording on a stand, but dances can be a sign of cultural appropriation.

Quarantine has been the catalyst for a sleuth of new cultural phenomena – Tiger King, Zoom, and baking addictions, to name a few. Perhaps most notably, TikTok has seen user numbers skyrocket since lockdown. And I don’t think those numbers are going down any time soon.

TikTok is a very special place. More so than any other social media apps I’ve engaged with, TikTok feels like a true community where total strangers can use the app’s duet or audio features to interact in creative, collaborative ways.

However, being able to use another user’s original audio or replicate their dance has highlighted the prevalence of cultural appropriation on TikTok: the app, as wholesome as it may be at times, has also become a hot bed for “virtual blackface”.

The most notable example of appropriation has to do with the Renegade dance and Charli D’Amelio – who is young, White, and arguably the most famous TikTok influencer (she is second only to Addison Rae, who is also White). The dance, originally created by 14-year-old Black user Jalaiah Harmon, essentially paved the way for D’Amelio’s fame and financial success (her net worth is estimated to be $8 million).

Only after Twitter backlash did D’Amelio credit Harmon as the original creator of the dance to which she owes her wealth – up until that point, the assumption was the dance was hers.

There is indeed a myriad of exploitative and appropriative examples of TikTok videos. Some of the most cringe-worthy include White users pantomiming black audio, in many cases affecting AAVE (African American Vernacular English). Styles of dance and music that were pioneered by Black artists have now been colonized by White users – and many TikTokers are not made aware of their cultural origins.

And what’s worse: TikTok’s algorithms favor White users, meaning White-washed iterations of videos tend to get more views, more engagement and, subsequently, more financial gains for the creator.

As you can imagine, TikTok’s Black community is up in arms. But don’t take it from me (a non-Black individual) – log onto the app and listen to what Black users have to say about cultural appropriation for yourself.

Still, the app is one of the fastest growing. Companies are finding creative ways to weave their paid ads and more subliminal marketing strategies into the fabric of the ‘For You’ page. In many ways, TikTok is the next frontier in social media marketing.

With a few relevant locational hashtags and some innovative approaches to advertising, your business could get some serious FREE attention on TikTok. In fact, it’s the future.

As aware and socially conscious small business owners, we need to make sure that while we are using the app to get ours, that the Black creators and artists who made the app what it is today are also getting theirs. Anything short of direct accountability for the platform and for caustic White users would be offensive.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Social Media

Twitter branches out into voice chat – what could go wrong?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) We’re learning more about Twitter’s forthcoming audio chat rooms, but what is Twitter learning about moderation?

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Twitter open on a smartphone on table next to a cup of warm brown tea.

Twitter wants you to talk more with more people. Like, actually form words. With your mouth.

In November 2020, the micro-blogging giant announced it’s testing its new Audio Spaces feature, which allows users to create audio-only chat rooms – making it what Wired calls a copycat of the new and buzzy Clubhouse app.

Twitter itself hasn’t released many details, but tech blogger/app-feature detective Jane Manchun Wong has been tweeting some of the deets.

How it works

Here’s what we know about the private beta version, according to Wong: Users create a chat room and can control who is admitted to the group, whether it’s the public, followers, or followees. Group size is currently limited to 10. Members can react with a set set of emojis: “100,” raised hand, fist, peace sign, and waving hand. Spaces conversations are not recorded, but they are transcribed for accessibility. It uses Periscope on the back end.

One thing that’s not clear: The actual name. Twitter’s announcements have been calling it Audio Spaces, but the product’s handle is @TwitterSpaces.

It’s Twitter! What could go wrong?

The big gorilla in the chat room is moderation – as in, how do you keep humans from being terrible on Twitter?

We can all be forgiven for skepticism when it comes to Twitter’s aim to keep Audio Spaces safe(ish). Twitter can be a toxic stew of personal insults and even threats. Interestingly, Twitter is starting its test by inviting users who are often targets: Women and people from marginalized groups. Great idea! Who better to help craft community guidelines?

Requiring platforms to shut down hate speech and violent threats is having a moment, and Clubhouse is already in the controversy mix. Even as invite-only, the app has had some high-profile failures to moderate with threats toward a New York Times reporter and a problem anti-semitic conversation. It seems likely Twitter is paying attention.

Also on the safe(ish) side: The space creator is all powerful and can mute or kick out bad actors. Spaces can also be reported. Then there’s the transcription, which sets Audio Spaces apart from similar apps. Chat transcription was aimed at accessibility but, TechCrunch suggests that might help keep things civil and appropriate if people know their words are being written down. Hmm. Maybe?

Also… Why?

It doesn’t appear that there was a groundswell of demand from users, but Audio Spaces at least is something different from the feature pile-on making the social media big dogs start to look the same, as in Twitter’s also-new Fleets, Instagram’s and Facebook’s Stories, Snapchat’s… Snapchat. (See also Instagram’s Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight, TikTok’s… TikTok.)

Clubhouse does appear to be hugely popular in Silicon Valley – and it has the investment capital to show it – so maybe there’s something to this audio-only chat thing. But we’ve already seen pandemic-fueled Zoom-happy-hour-fatigue, as users have gotten frustrated with too many people talking at the same time. Video chat can give users at least a few more clues about who is talking and who might be about to talk. Audio-only chat seems like it could quickly devolve into a chaotic cacophony.

But, Twitter says, conversation will flow naturally, and it advises users to “be present.”

“Just like in real life, the magic is in the moment,” it says.

It’s beta testers will surely have a lot to say about “magic” and “moderation.”

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Social Media

New Pinterest code of conduct pushes for mindful posting

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media sites have struggled with harmful content, but Pinterest is using their new code of conduct to encourage better, not just reprimands.

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Pinterest icon on phone with 2 notifications, indicating new code of conduct.

It appears that at least one social media site has made a decision on how to move forward with the basis of their platform. Pinterest has created a brand-new code of conduct for their users. Giving them a set of rules to follow which to some may be a little restricting, but I’m not mad about it. In a public statement, they told the world their message:

“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant, and reflective of who they are.”

The revamp of their system includes 3 separate changes revolving around the rules of the platform. All of them are complete with examples and full sets of rules. The list is summed up as:

  • Pinterest Creator Code
  • Pinterest Comment Moderation Tools
  • Pinterest Creator Fund

For the Creator Code, Pinterest had this to say: “The Creator Code is a mandatory set of guidelines that lives within our product intended to educate and build community around making inclusive and compassionate content”. The rules are as follows:

  • Be Kind
  • Check my Facts
  • Be aware of triggers
  • Practice Inclusion
  • Do no harm

The list of rules provides some details on the pop-up as well, with notes like “make sure content doesn’t insult,” “make sure information is accurate,” etc. The main goal of this ‘agreement’, according to Pinterest, is not to reprimand offending people but to practice a proactive and empowering social environment. Other social websites have been shoe-horned into reprimanding instead of being proactive against abuse, and it has been met with mixed results. Facebook itself is getting a great deal of flack about their new algorithm that picks out individual words and bans people for progressively longer periods without any form of context.

Comment Moderation is a new set of tools that Pinterest is hoping will encourage a more positive experience between users and content creators. It’s just like putting the carrot before the donkey to get him to move the cart.

  • Positivity Reminders
  • Moderation Tools
  • Featured Comments
  • New Spam Prevention Signals

Sticking to the positivity considerations here seems to be the goal. They seem to be focusing on reminding people to be good and encouraging them to stay that way. Again, proactive, not reactive.

The social platform’s last change is to create a Pinterest Creator Fund. Their aim is to provide training, create strategy consulting, and financial support. Pinterest has also stated that they are going to be aiming these funds specifically at underrepresented communities. They even claim to be committing themselves to a quota of 50% of their Creators. While I find this commendable, it also comes off a little heavy handed. I would personally wait to see how they go about this. If they are ignoring good and decent Creators based purely on them being in a represented group, then I would find this a bad use of their time. However, if they are actively going out and looking for underrepresented Creators while still bringing in good Creators that are in represented groups, then I’m all for this.

Being the change you want to see in the world is something I personally feel we should all strive towards. Whether or not you produced positive change depends on your own goals… so on and so forth. In my own opinion, Pinterest and their new code of conduct is creating a better positive experience here and striving to remind people to be better than they were with each post. It’s a bold move and ultimately could be a spectacular outcome. Only time will tell how their creators and users will respond. Best of luck to them.

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Facebook releases Hotline as yet another Clubhouse competitor

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As yet another app emerges to try and take some of Clubhouse’s success, Facebook Hotline adds a slightly more formal video chat component to the game.

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Woman forming hands into heart shape at laptop hosting live video chat, similar to Facebook's new app Hotline

Facebook is at it again and launching its own version of another app. This time, the company has launched Hotline, which looks like a cross between Instagram Live and Clubhouse.

Facebook’s Hotline is the company’s attempt at competing with Clubhouse, the audio-based social media app, which was released on iOS in March 2020. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Facebook had already begun working on building its own version of the app. Erik Hazzard, who joined Facebook in 2017 after the company acquired his tbh app, is leading the project.

The app was created by the New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, Facebook’s experimental development division, and it’s already in beta testing online. To access it, you can use the web-based application through the platform’s website to join the waitlist and “Host a Show”. However, you will need to sign in using your Twitter account to do so.

Unlike Clubhouse, Hotline lets users also chat through video and not just audio alone. The product is more like a formal Q&A and recording platform. Its features allow people to live stream and hold Q&A sessions with their audiences similar to Instagram Live. And, audience members can ask questions by using text or audio.

Also, what makes Hotline a little more formal than Clubhouse is that it automatically records conversations. According to TechCrunch, hosts receive both a video and audio recording of the event. With a guaranteed recording feature, the Q&A sessions will stray away from the casual vibes of Clubhouse.

The first person to host a Q&A live stream on Hotline is real-estate investor Nick Huber, who is the type of “expert” Facebook is hoping to attract to its platform.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “New Product Experimentation has been testing multimedia products like CatchUp, Venue, Collab, and BARS, and we’re encouraged to see the formats continue to help people connect and build community,” the spokesperson added.

According to a Reuters article, the app doesn’t have any audience size limits, hosts can remove questions they don’t want to answer, and Facebook is moderating inappropriate content during its early days.

An app for mobile devices isn’t available yet, but if you want to check it out, you can visit Hotline’s website.

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