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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 to start charging users? Here’s what you need to know

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media is trending toward the subscription based model, especially as the pandemic pushes ad revenue down. What does this mean for Twitter users?

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Twitter and other social media apps open on a phone being held in a hand. Will they go to a paid option subscription model?

In an attempt to become less dependent on advertising, Twitter Inc. announced that it will be considering developing a subscription product, as well as other paid options. Here’s the scoop:

  • The ideas for paid Twitter that are being tossed around include tipping creators, the ability to pay users you follow for exclusive content, charging for use of the TweetDeck, features like “undo send”, and profile customization options and more.
  • While Twitter has thought about moving towards paid for years, the pandemic has pushed them to do it – plus activist investors want to see accelerated growth.
  • The majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from targeted ads, though Twitter’s ad market is significantly smaller than Facebook and other competitors.
  • The platform’s user base in the U.S. is its most valuable market, and that market is plateauing – essentially, Twitter can’t depend on new American users joining to make money anymore.
  • The company tried user “tips” in the past with its live video service Periscope (RIP), which has now become a popular business model for other companies – and which we will most likely see again with paid Twitter.
  • And yes, they will ALWAYS take a cut of any money being poured into the app, no matter who it’s intended for.

This announcement comes at a time where other social media platforms, such as TikTok and Clubhouse, are also moving towards paid options.

My hot take: Is it important – especially during a pandemic – to make sure that creators are receiving fair compensation for the content that we as users consume? Yes, 100%. Pay people for their work. And in the realm of social media, pictures, memes, and opinions are in fact work. Don’t get it twisted.

Does this shift also symbolize a deviation from the unpaid, egalitarian social media that we’ve all learned to use, consume, and love over the last decade? It sure does.

My irritation stems not from the fact that creators will probably see more return on their work in the future. Or on the principal of free social media for all. It stems from sheer greediness of the social media giants. Facebook, Twitter, and their counterparts are already filthy rich. Like, dumb rich. And guess what: Even though Twitter has been free so far, it’s creators and users alike that have been generating wealth for the company.

So why do they want even more now?

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Social Media

TikTok enters the e-commerce space, ready to compete with Zuckerberg?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Setting up social media for e-commerce isn’t an uncommon practice, but for TikTok this means the next step competing with Facebook and Instagram.

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Couple taking video with mobile phone, prepared for e-commerce.

Adding e-commerce offerings to social media platforms isn’t anything new. However, TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, is rolling out some new e-commerce features that will place the social video app in direct competition with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram.

According to a Financial Times report, TikTok’s new features will allow the platform to create and expand its e-commerce service in the U.S. The new features will allow TikTok’s popular users to monetize their content. These users will be able to promote and sell products by sharing product links in their content. In return, TikTok will profit from the sales by earning a commission.

Among the features included is “live-streamed” shopping. In this mobile phone shopping channel, users can purchase products by tapping on products during a user’s live demo. Also, TikTok plans on releasing a feature that will allow brands to display their product catalogs.

Currently, Facebook has expanded into the e-commerce space through its Facebook Marketplace. In May 2020, it launched Facebook Shops that allows businesses to turn their Facebook and Instagram stories into online stores.

But, Facebook hasn’t had too much luck in keeping up with the video platform in other areas. In 2018, the social media giant launched Lasso, its short-form video app. But the company’s TikTok clone didn’t last too long. Last year, Facebook said bye-bye to Lasso and shut it down.

Instagram is trying to compete with TikTok by launching Instagram Reels. This feature allows users to share short videos just like TikTok, but the future of Reels isn’t set in stone yet. By the looks of it, videos on Reels are mainly reposts of video content posted on TikTok.

There is no word on when the features will roll out to influencers on TikTok, but according to the Financial Times report, the social media app’s new features have already been viewed by some people.

TikTok has a large audience that continues to grow. By providing monetization tools in its platform, TikTok believes its new tools will put it ahead of Facebook in the e-commerce game, and help maintain that audience.

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Social Media

Your favorite Clubhouse creators can now ask for your financial support

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Clubhouse just secured new funding – what it means for creators and users of the latest quarantine-based social media darling.

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Woman talking on Clubhouse on her iPhone with a big smile.

Clubhouse – the live-voice chat app that has been taking the quarantined world by storm – has recently announced that it has raised new funding in a Series B round, led by Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

The app confirms that new funding means compensation for creators; much like the influencers on TikTok and YouTube, now Clubhouse creators will be able to utilize features such as subscriptions, tipping, and ticket sales to monetize their content.

To encourage emerging Clubhouse creators and invite new voices, funding round will also support a promising “Creator Grant Program”.

On the surface, Clubhouse is undoubtedly cool. The invite-only, celebrity-filled niche chatrooms feel utopic for any opinionated individual – or anyone that just likes to listen. At its best, Clubhouse brings to mind collaborative campfire chats, heated lecture-hall debates or informative PD sessions. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m actually obsessed.

And now with its new round, the video chatroom app will not only appear cool but also act as a helpful steppingstone to popular and emerging creators alike. “Creators are the lifeblood of Clubhouse,” said Paul & Rohan, the app’s creators, “and we want to make sure that all of the amazing people who host conversations for others are getting recognized for their contributions.”

Helping creators get paid for their labor in 2021 is a cause that we should 100% get behind, especially if we’re consuming their content.

Over the next few months, Clubhouse will be prototyping their tipping, tickets and subscriptions – think a system akin to Patreon, but built directly into the app.

A feature unique to the app – tickets – will offer individuals and organizations the chance to hold formal discussions and events while charging an admission. Elite Clubhouse rooms? I wonder if I can get a Clubhouse press pass.

Additionally, Clubhouse has announced plans for Android development (the app has only been available to Apple users so far). They are also working on moderation policies after a recent controversial chat sparked uproar. To date, the app has been relying heavily on community moderation, the power of which I’ve witnessed countless times whilst in rooms.

So: Is the golden age of Clubhouse – only possible for a short period while everyone was stuck at home and before the app gained real mainstream traction – now over? Or will this new round of funding and subsequent development give the app a new beginning?

For now, I think it’s safe to say that the culture of Clubhouse will certainly be changing – what we don’t know is if the changes will make this cream-of-the-crop app even better, or if it’ll join the ranks of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook in being another big-time social media staple.

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