The home of Egirls and furries is now a hotbed of political action.
If the revolution will not be televised, it might be streamed online, complete with lip-syncing and filters. Dissent’s newest home is quickly looking like a new social network based on short looping videos, à la the late Vine. TikTok has already become a breeding ground for new subgenres. Look at Egirls—a pigtailed Gen Z emo update, inspired by punk and goth post tutorials, anime, and emotional deep dives. Recently, the platform is being used to bring about political change.
From North Carolina’s Greensboro sit-ins against racial segregation in 1960 to the teenagers who flooded the streets of Tahrir Square in the name of democracy in 2011, physical space has always been the bedrock of collective action. But in the world of Gen Z, where online connectivity is the currency, why call for action in a designated space, when you can organize, campaign, and advocate online and have it be shared by thousands?
Earlier this week, 16-year-old Foothill High School student Gillian Sullivan called on her fellow classmates to strike after posting a short video to the social networking platform slamming her school district for freezing a teacher’s salary. Despite posting her rally cry to Snapchat and Instagram, her message blew up on TikTok gathering more than 37,000 likes. The strike has now been called off after talks between the Clark County School District and Clark County Education Association resulted in a 3% salary increase for all employees (except newly hired employees), but Sullivan and her TikTok followers are ready to fight for their teachers if the need arises.
Passionate American zoomers aren’t the only ones using TikTok as an unexpected tool of resistance. Earlier this year Uighur Muslims in the remote Chinese region of Xinjiang began posting videos about government abuse to TikTok, by memorializing missing relatives who have disappeared to detainment facilities during the Chinese government’s efforts to rid the country of ethnic Muslims. As these TikTok users posted silent videos with pictures of their missing loved ones, the Chinese government paid Twitter and Facebook to help them spread anti-Muslimism propaganda and disinformation.
So why is TikTok beginning to take off among the disenfranchised and their champions? Each technology monolith have had their utopian salad days; when both Twitter and Facebook first gained traction they were seen as a global village square when anyone could be heard. This just might be TiKTok’s. But unlike its competitors, the singalong based social network still feels fairly democratic; we don’t know much about its algorithms, it has not been linked to a huge data leak or censorship scandal (despite speculation that its parent company has censored Hong Kong protesters), and it’s been adopted by a much younger audience than Facebook or Twitter. It’s the new kid on the social block and doesn’t have the same reputational crises as others, perhaps making it feel more progressive than it actually is. But either way, stay tuned for the resistance.