Social media has changed the way communities communicate and collaborate with each other in the current day. When interacting virtually, individuals feel more comfortable to explore their identity away from discrimination and intolerance more apparent in the real world. LGBTQ+ members are able to play around with their sense of self and sexual needs with like-minded peers, satisfying their pleasure needs and validating their experiences, especially on a contemporary progressive social media site like TikTok. TikTok does this mainly through their categorisation features like hashtags and audios. This paper will examine how TikTok’s online communities allow and assist young people to experiment more freely with their sexuality identity compared to communities in the physical world.
Social media has undoubtedly become “…a tool to bring together individuals with similar interests and foster intimate relationships through sustained interactions” (Pan et al. 2017). They utilise certain features to assist develop communities and micro-communities, especially those repressed by the physical world reality. TikTok is an example of this; the online communities on the app allow young people to freely experiment with their sexual identity away from “intolerant users” (Cohen, 2021) and discrimination, developing a safe space where young individuals can explore traits of their self-identity with like-minded peers. TikTok helps this mainly through its categorisation features and facilitation of pages made for hashtags and audios, making online collaboration a preferable option particularly for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, young people are presented with a wide variety of information and existence of communities on TikTok which allow them, in many ways, to experiment more freely with their sexuality identity.
Social media sites in the current day enable individual users with the ability of “identity expression, exploration, and experimentation” (Gündüz, 2017), and communities formed over the internet provide a safe space for this behaviour. Young people today are known to be the target demographic for social media, with 95% of teenagers in the United States reporting having access to a smartphone (Anderson & Jiang, 2018), and 62% of them claiming to use the app TikTok at least once a month (Zheng et al., 2021). TikTok is a social media app which allow users to upload fifteen- to sixty-second long videos from a variety of genres such as comedy, education, and dance. Uniquely to TikTok, these create communities and micro-communities within the app, which although similar to the collaborative micro-blogging styles of Twitter and Facebook, it comes in a media-sharing form like Instagram and YouTube. This enables individuals to move freely throughout different communities and find peers which assist in validation and giving a sense of belonging through a more noticeable face to the name.
TikTok Online Communities and Identity
Online communities created on TikTok allow for individuals to present themselves to others in a way they desire, and since these communities are “…not physical, they do not follow interaction and communication patterns followed by physical communities” (Gündüz, 2017). This enables young people to express themselves freely in a communal environment separate to the physical that they may turn on and off. Gündüz (2017) mentions that “communication processes in virtual environments are carried out using fictionalized profiles…which differentiate from traditional interactions by the fact that users can express themselves… separate from pressures originating from the super-ego”. Individuals may experiment with name, gender, look, interests, and sexuality to no judgement since people they meet online will be none the wiser. Individuals may also choose to be anonymous, perhaps using online forums and social media like TikTok as more of an observer or unidentified contributor.
Overall, research discovered by Pan et al. (2017) claims “…the influence of social factors on individual behaviors are interdependent with individual factors”, and that “…uncovering individual factors that serve as moderators can reveal important differences across individuals [after social media usage]”. This means that online communities bring out personality traits and alter individual users’ self-identity after interaction. Although, the intensity and impact of social media on one’s self identity relies on amount of usage; particularly routine use, regular use, and efficient use (Pan et al., 2017). Pan et al. (2017) notes this since “…such reinforced use of social media helps community members develop familiarity with the online community, thereby facilitating the integration of the online community into members’ lives”. They propose that “social media service providers should simultaneously encourage community members’ reinforced use and varied use in order to achieve both exploitation and exploration”. TikTok encourages this by assisting in developing communities within the app by including features such as hashtags and audios which categorise information with ease.
Categorisation on TikTok
It is often not as simple to find like-minded peers in person as it can be virtually, since an app like TikTok utilises handy categorisation features to assist users. One of the simplest forms of creating and managing communities on TikTok is hashtags. Hashtags are a means of tagging, enabling users to incorporate keywords after the symbol # to “…sort and bring together Internet resources across websites” (Chang, 2011). For example, a user talking about the upcoming Pride month of the current year may summarise their video by captioning #Pride2021). Users are hence able to “…broaden the scope of the message in a way that can be seen by other users” (Gündüz, 2017), making it easier then for others to click on the tag where they are brought to a page of videos using the same hashtag. While hashtags originated on Twitter, this feature has successfully made its way into other social media sites like Instagram and TikTok, becoming a memorable trait across the internet in general, making it easy for users to access desired information.
However, TikTok has a distinctive categorising feature that is yet to be seen on other sites… and that is audios. According to research conducted in 2019 in China, 76.3% of Chinese TikTok users are interested in music (Wang et al., 2019), and the short videos on the app satisfy the consumers’ pleasure needs. Wang (2019) notes results that reveal “44.1% of respondents believe that they [relieve stress and] …38.2% of respondents believe that it is popular, which is a kind of “follow the trend” mentality, [also reflecting] the user’s demand for social identification”. TikTok’s short videos assist users to relax and feel welcomed as a member of a community, hence encouraging them to feel comfortable in identity and sexual experimentation that they may not find physically (Wang, 2019). Like hashtags, audios on TikTok act as a feature of categorising. Users can upload their own audios or use someone else’s in order to gain the attention of and interaction from a particular community who click onto the audio’s page. These audios are commonly songs or simply someone’s narration, which most often directs the focus of the video and community interest it belongs to. Evidently due to the possibility of range, there is a high chance of finding one’s niche and community with like interests on the app no matter how unique.
TikTok Online Communities and Sexuality
Among young people, a popular topic to discuss and experiment with is sexual experimentation and risk-taking (Aggleton et al., 2000), therefore an app such as TikTok which facilitates the existence of communities through a desired identity is an ideal platform for young people to explore their needs. Gündüz (2017) states that because social media and virtual communities has no time or place limitation, users can communicate and collaborate more intensely on apps like TikTok compared to in physical life, gaining help from others in incredible speed and dimension. Due to the accessibility and fast-paced nature of TikTok, the app has “…become an increasingly popular venue for queer online activism, as people use it to fight against discrimination and to normalize the existence of LGBTQ+ identities.” (Cohen, 2021). Consequently, young people are encouraged to experiment through seeing its normalisation online. The impact of this app on sexuality goes as far as there being a social stigma around TikTok that those who are active users of the app are more likely to be homosexual, bi-sexual, or queer because of the amount of interaction the communities have on these users and vice versa. However, those who are not associated with those titles are shunned into belonging to ‘straight TikTok’, an online community described as having boring and cringe-worthy content.
Cohen (2021) mentions that the internet, and more recently TikTok is an preferable place for queer people to “…come together as a community, give and receive advice on LGBTQ+-related experiences, and discuss the various societal issues affecting them”. Following the work of Earl and Kimport (2011), he includes that this has become the case in recent years since it reduces need to plan physical meetings, making interacting online a low-cost and low-effort alternative. Claims are made that this is also the preferable option for members of the LGBTQ+ community since it allows for them to find fellow members safely and easily, collaborating with each other’s combined knowledge (Cohen, 2021). Queer youth also intend to use TikTok to expand their community reach since these are places that can “combat heteronormativity”, developing these online safe spaces for both repressive and expressive members to “discover their identity” away from “intolerant users” (Cohen, 2021). This provides a welcoming and comfortable place for ‘closeted’, experimenting, and ‘outed’ sexuality youth to play around with their identity. These designated places on TikTok where LGBTQ+ youth experimenters may frequent “…could become part of self-identity to the extent that [they] use them to define themselves” (Pan et al., 2017). Young users notice similarities with other users and adopt certain practices or learn from their experiences to progress their sexuality exploration.
Sexuality Repression in the Physical World
There has been a long and dark history of discrimination and hate towards those who express homosexual tendencies in the physical world. While members of the LGBTQ+ community have received more recognition and acceptance in Western countries like the U.S., discrimination, violence, and repression against the community still remains in other countries in extreme measures (Lee & Ostergard, 2017). In countries such as these, queer individuals are faced with “humiliation, intimidation, and brutal attacks” by opposing families, communities and authorities (Lee & Ostergard, 2017). They are also often prevented from reporting crimes and in seeking retribution, ultimately leaving them in fear of expressing their true sexual identity in the physical public world (Lee & Ostergard, 2017). However, using social media typically assists these individuals in finding a safe space to discuss and feel welcomed by those in similar situations despite neglect in their physical life. Although, this may not apply for those who are governed by serious family control and cultural or religious leadership. In extreme cases in places like North Korea where media is strictly controlled, it is clearly near improbable for LGBTQ+ community members to embrace their identity, therefore, unfortunately not all members of these groups can receive help and support in every state. Individuals are forced to repress their emotions, desires, and opposing sexual traits that do not line with those which rule over them. Kim (2014) quotes Halliday (1985), observing that in North Korea, citizens are governed by commands, told that “all women want children” and “there is nobody in the family who refuses to do something that should be done”. They are told not to engage in homosexual behaviours because “…marriage and sexuality is understood strictly within the confines of the heterosexual nuclear family”. Kim (2014) notes how this has created oppression in families, questioning why such philosophy is able to exist in a modern time. However, there will always be opposing ideals to homosexuality expression, and it is up to the current and future generations to alter this harmful mentality.
Combined with the apps accessible style of categorising videos, and safe spaces where online communities can thrive, people begin to define themselves as relative to others on TikTok. This encourages the users experiment in welcoming certain communities that they may not find in their physical lives. The app assists ‘closeted’, experimenting, and ‘outed’ sexuality youth to explore their self- and sexual identity with a myriad of like-minded peers who have varied experiences. It also normalises the existence of LGBTQ+ communities, welcoming all to a preferable place to discuss and explore freely without discrimination or judgement. Since TikTok remains an extremely new social media site, there are limitations in predicting how much the app can assist other minority groups and communities in the future and if it can continue to help support young people experimenting with their sexual identity in coming generations. Further research may lie in how social media apps like TikTok can help future generations be more expressive with identity at an earlier stage without as much intolerance in the physical world.
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22 thoughts on “The Impact of TikTok’s Online Communities on Users’ Sexuality Expression”
I really enjoyed your paper and found it interesting to read. Tik-Tok has certainly created a space for all individual’s to be able to express themselves. I spend a lot of time on TikTok and have certainly noticed more LGBTQ+ related videos and posts.
I do however personally feel online social media is very impressionable on young teens and there is a fine line between creating a positive supportive community and a community that is formed of trolls and bullying to bring individuals down. The two different communities can be both detrimental and beneficial to impressionable teens, which can skew a teens online identity. Social media creates an online world based on the current societies issues which individuals create their online identities on rather than show their ‘real-life’ identity. What are your thoughts in societies views being impressionable on how teens create their online identity?
To answer your question, I believe that societal views and expectations upon young people have been controversial for countless generations and throughout history even before the introduction of the internet and social media. There has always been the existence of teenage rebellion as a way to move away from expectations and experiment with their identity and more in recent years, sexuality.
Societal views are definitely impressionable on how teens express their identity, but it is up to the teenagers to decide what to do with it; live by them and suppress any opposing values or take the risk in rebelling against them and experimenting in finding their identity. Social media helps with this rebellion. Teenagers will often create an online identity as a way of exploration separate from real-world discrimination. Therefore, it is then up to them to change societal views and expectations if it only exists to oppress people who are afraid to experiment.
Thank you for the questions, they were very helpful in making me consider my values on social media, online identity and societal norms 🙂
I enjoyed reading your paper, TikTok has indeed created its own place in our daily-use social media platform. When it comes to the usage of Young people on the platform, you have well depicted the importance on how social media are enabling to freely experiment sexuality online. With like-minded people, a community can be built where each other are supporting their peers.
One key player in the TikTok platforms could be the integration of features that allows interaction amongst users, as you have mentioned. The use of Hashtags can create suitable algorithms that makes ignorant people aware of the sexuality issues concerning young people. Or even multiple users creating their own piece of video having a similar soundtrack can potentially raise campaigns or movements that will encourage other people to join the community.
With these types of tools, surely social media use will help to cease discriminations or physical abuse in the society.
All to all it was a well elaborated paper.
Thank you so much for your comment. Glad to know my paper has been well-received!
Thank you for such a fascinating and well-researched paper. This was a well-needed read as this topic is one that has many perspectives. I agree that TikTok has facilitated sexual identity exploration through music, dance, and fashion. TikTok has become one of the most used platforms on social media and the majority of its users are kids. While TikTok allows online communities to explore their sexuality through expression, this makes me question whether the kids on it are confused due to the age group, and therefore, exploring different sexualities or whether they’re being influenced by certain videos that have gone viral.
While there are not many platforms for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s amazing to see how TikTok has found its way to give them a platform and for these communities to feel safe enough to express who they are without the fear of being judged. Due to the rules and regulations as well as constant support, TikTok has been able to protect these users, helping them be who they are.
My question is – Why do you think TikTok has such a huge following, especially with the younger generation. What sets this platform apart from the other social media platforms?
These are very insightful and interesting points you bring up which I have not thought about so thank you I appreciate the questions!
I do agree TikTok is a social media site that is very regularly used by kids; although through my usage on the app I do not see children under 12 on my feed. Perhaps this is due to algorithms that have been suited to my age range and interests, but I do think a big reason is that children under 12 or around 12 years are more observers and watchers of content rather than contributors and makers of videos as such.
I am not surrounded by any children younger than myself so I am unsure of how TikTok’s online communities (especially its LGBTQ+ community) affects children under 12 or how much content they do consume on the app. However, I do believe children are one of the most impressionable and naive age range so I assume they may be confused or questioning these communities that they may be unfamiliar with. Unless they are growing up in a household where they are very well educated about subjects of sexuality and expression, I do agree that they may not understand certain subjects and would often need education and supervision by adults.
I believe the minimum age limit is 13 years to use the TikTok app which I believe is appropriate since this is typically the age children or teenagers begin to question themselves and the people around them in more depth. Giving them a platform like TikTok can be extremely educational and eye-opening, although should be used with caution and knowledge of risks like any other social media site.
To answer your question, I think TikTok is more appealing to the younger generation since it is certainly more fast-paced and ever-changing compared to Instagram or Facebook. Trends come and go really quick! Through my own usage, I notice there is a new trending sound, celebrity or challenge almost every fortnight if not week! The ‘For You Page’ on TikTok, which is essentially its feed, allows for users to see videos that are less than a minute in length and catered to them specifically depending on their usage. The algorithms and suitability to each individual user is a feature in social media that is almost revolutionary – I am yet to see a feature like this at such accuracy on another site yet!
Thank you so much for your input!
Your paper was very relevant in todays day and age and it was interesting to read about how the functionality of TikTok as a platform can contribute to the way users feel about the platform and the content they upload to it. I spend a lot of time on TikTok myself and have considerably noticed the high volume of LGBTQ+ related videos.
I acknowledge that online communities provide spaces for people who are vulnerable to repression to seek support and build community, such as LGBTQ+ people, but I notice a lot of this reaffirmation of the community also involves transgressing and violating the identities of individual users and the infrastructure of TikTok can be biased against that identity more broadly, such as through stereotypes and misrepresentation (Simpson & Semaan, 2020). Simpson and Semaan (2020) conducted a study that found that LGBTQ+ TikTok user’s identities were being marginalised through the algorithmic functions of TikTok. For example content that made it to the ‘for you’ page represented stereotypes of people in the LGBTQ+ community. They also discussed that the many LGBTQ+ users have been banned from the TikTok live function after discussion of topics surrounding their sexuality. If you’re interested in their argument as a whole you should give it a read. But I was just wondering if in your experience on TikTok you have noticed this? Do you think because TikTok has such a young audience this could be confusing for people who are trying to discover parts of their own identity or sexual preferences?
Simpson, E., & Semaan, B. (2021). For You, or For” You”? Everyday LGBTQ+ Encounters with TikTok. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 4(CSCW3), 1-34. https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3432951?casa_token=VGP47WfVVUYAAAAA:xDaU14sjE7OGhzp-0-fNvvF8mCEOSQ6lfw03TWjdMto8riCzrqE4S24pw94KWAZFRcFduHXsxwA0_w
Hi Rachelle (and Katrina),
Firstly, well done on an interesting and relevant paper. As my comments are similar to Katrina’s, I thought it would be best to add to this thread so that you are able to respond to the one topic.
On Monday 10th 2021, GLAAD released it’s inaugural ‘Social Media Safety Index’ as mentioned in this article (https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/top-social-media-platforms-unsafe-lgbtq-users-report-finds-rcna889). The report found that the five top social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok) were “categorically unsafe across the board” (Ellis, 2021, as cited in HBO, 2021, 0:45) for the LGBTQ+ community.
In the GLAAD’s report, the main criticism of TikTok was over ‘shadow banning’ practices of legitimate LGBTQ+ hashtags, especially in countries with strong stances against LGBTQ+ individuals such as Russia, Bosnia and Jordan (GLAAD, 2021, p. 48). The report also states that “There are many, many changes the platform can implement to make their product safer for LGBTQ users” (GLAAD, 2021, p. 44).
Do you believe that TikTok needs to be doing more to support the LGBTQ+ communities that have found a space on their platform?
GLAAD. (2021, May 10). Social Media Safety Index. GLAAD. https://www.glaad.org/sites/default/files/images/2021-05/GLAAD%20SOCIAL%20MEDIA%20SAFETY%20INDEX_0.pdf
HBO. (2021, May 9). Axios on HBO: GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis on Social Media Safety (Clip) | HBO. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtIarZXCntI
Silva, C. (2021, May 10). Top social media platforms ‘unsafe’ for LGBTQ users, report finds. NBCNews.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/top-social-media-platforms-unsafe-lgbtq-users-report-finds-rcna889
Thank you for adding to my comment- your information was very insightful and relevant to my view on the topic. I hadn’t thought about the impact ‘shadow banning’ has on LGBTQ+ communities but I can see how it can further marginalise minority communities. According to Middlebrook (2020), minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community are being shadow banned a lot more than those of mainstream communities. “Non-sexual pictures of queer people, women of colour and plus-sized women, even relatively mundane ones, have been shadow banned –implying these bodies, clothed or not, are inherently sexual, or something to be hidden from view”. (Chante, 2019, as cited in Middlebrook, 2020, p. 2). I believe social media platforms, in particular TikTok need to work towards changing how algorithms prioritise certain values in order to create a safe space online for members of vulnerable and marginalised communities (Middlebrook, 2020).
Middlebrook, C. (2020). The Grey Area: Instagram, Shadowbanning, and the Erasure of Marginalized Communities. Shadowbanning, and the Erasure of Marginalized Communities (February 17, 2020). https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3539721
Hi Katrina and Madison!
Wow thank you for such an interesting and educated conversation about my topic I’m so glad that it has brought about such a discussion in such depth and range.
Since my focus on my paper was looking at the positives of TikTok on the LGBTQ+ community and those questioning their sexuality, I had not nearly spent enough time and research into the negatives of the platform on these communities so your input was very great to read!
In the points that you both bring up, I also have noticed that LGBTQ+ individuals on the app are often stereotyped and obviously grouped together in both good and not-so-good ways. They have also faced negativity and cyber-bullying on TikTok like any other community does sadly, although this is an issue that I believe can unfortunately never truly be stopped… as of yet, there isn’t a platform where every community or micro-community is given its own segregated area totally safe from judgement and hate.
TikTok is still an extremely new app so I am hoping that in the future its features are given the right amount of attention by the company and fixed so that these issues like banning expressive LGBTQ+ users are solved. I do find this bringing up a very interesting topic that could be a possible argument against mine which would be educational to read!
In my own knowledge, TikTok is run by a Chinese company in China, which social media regulation in China is a whole another topic that can be brought up, and there are many cultural expectations about sexuality expression in that country. Therefore, it is possible these regulations have been hidden in the TikTok app even when it was distributed to countries like Australia and U.S.A. where sexuality expression is not looked-down upon as much as it is in China or other Asian countries. Hence, this could be an explanation as to why these users have been ‘shadow-banned’, banned, or restricted.
I believe that TikTok should fix this problem by allowing different countries which use the app to alter regulations and algorithms to fit better with their culture and society. This way, Eastern cultural regulations and expectations do not affect Western cultures which oppose theirs.
Thank you so much!
I really enjoyed your choice of topic. Many view TikTok as a random means to pass time, but I find it fascinating how it actually makes people who are part of the “less popular communities” to feel a greater sense of belongingness.
You mention that platforms like TikTok have helped people who have been victims of discrimination in the past. I personally think that there is a very fine line between helping someone to belong and giving concrete solutions. Social media often tends to make people live in “bubbles” that restrict their interaction in the real world. What do you think? Could there be a more complete solution?
Very interesting topic indeed! Great work !
I wrote a paper on how the BLM movement on Twitter has strengthened the Afro-American community. I would love to have your views on this matter. Here is the link: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/27/the-black-lives-matter-movement-on-twitter-has-socially-and-politically-strengthen-the-afro-american-community-with-use-of-hashtags/
Thank you so much for your comment!
That is a very interesting point you bring up. I believe that social media is definitely not a concrete solution to discrimination or alienation against LGBTQ+ individuals as of course it may exist in the world outside of the platform for these users. However, I do believe it has easily impacted a lot of questioning individuals to find others who share experiences in a more physically safe and accessible alternative. Also, it is a step forward in equality and further acceptance of sexually expressive communities since users of social media who may not be a part of these communities may begin to recognise how much representation it has online compared to a world pre-TikTok.
While there is a common discussion about how social media has affected young people’s social life and interaction in the physical world, I believe that social media has allowed users to see people like themselves rightfully represented and hence no longer feel alone about their sexuality. I believe it builds their confidence and sense of self knowing that they are not too much of a minority and begin to feel accepted and comfortable in their bodies and mind which will help them to be more confident in their non-digital life.
I don’t agree that they live in their own ‘bubbles’ as per se, but more so acts as a place to educate users about other existing communities they may not see in real life and then finding their own place of belonging in a community.
Hi Rachelle! 🙂
I really enjoyed reading your paper and you had a great use of incorporating references into your arguments! I agree that TikTok has allowed users to freely express their identity especially through dance, makeup artistry and fashion. However, some may argue that numerous members of the LGBTQ+ community may take this representation of identity ‘too far’.
Referring to a TikTok stitch I saw a few weeks ago by @www.lol.no (that has since been deleted), the individual in the video claimed that they use neopronouns, identifying as “e/em, eir/eirs or xe/xem/xyr/xyrs…”, along with numerous other identifying phrases such as “white trans masculine fem non-binary…”. This accumulated some backlash by users commenting “…neopronouns are not even a real thing” (@scooo2424) and many poking fun at the idea of ‘making up’ pronouns with one jokingly commenting “mine are A/E/I/O/U and sometimes Y” (@brianna.emond). This creates a further debate whether or not all LGBTQ+ representation is valid by online users in terms of those who feel the need to continuously label ones identity, whether this be online or offline.
I feel as if we, as a society, have increasingly progressed in accepting and respecting members who identify within LGBTQ+ community compared to that in previous years. Through the help of social media, we are able to see queer representation more than ever before, which is shining a positive light on a taboo topic. 🙂
I definitely have seen a share of hate and bullying toward the LGBTQ+ TikTok community including mocking them and making fun of activities or behaviours they partake in, which is unfortunate.
Just a few weeks ago I was scrolling through my For You Page as I do quite often and noticed just how normalised being part of the LGBTQ+ community on TikTok is… which inspired my paper. I agree that sometimes this large representation of sexuality is taken a bit too far as you said. I have noticed that members of the community have begun to take advantage of it by mocking and making fun of straight people as I mentioned briefly in my paper, flipping the history of discrimination upon homosexuals onto heterosexuals, making them feel humiliated about being straight.
As a response, straight users of TikTok have been mocking the subject of pronouns and sexual orientation, creating a never-ending cycle of cyberbullying (whether it be light-hearted banter or intentionally hurtful).
It is extremely difficult to feel validated and respected in any community that opposes ideals to one’s own, and while people can easily find like-minded peers on social media, there will always be unrest between opposing communities that are formed online. Therefore, while users of TikTok can strive for world peace, it is more realistic to strive for positivity and ‘ignoring the haters’.
Thank you so much for your input, it was extremely insightful, relevant and necessary to point out 🙂
This was a really fascinating paper to read. I found your discussion on audios as a categorising feature so interesting! It makes sense that the use of music assists users to feel comfortable and relaxed in exploring sexuality in a way that they would not get in the offline world. I also did not realise audios acted as a kind of hashtag categorisation on TikTok. As you mentioned, there is a high chance of finding your own niche community in this way.
You mentioned there is a stigma around TikTok users because they are more likely to be LGBTQ+ by spending a lot of time and interaction in these communities. I was just wondering where this stigma is coming from? Is it from people they know closely? Or from wider offline or online communities?
I also liked in your conclusion how you acknowledged TikTiok is an extremely new platform and offered ideas for further research. Did you find it difficult researching for your own paper finding enough academic papers on the subject?
Well done on a great paper!
Thank you for your comment and important questions to make clear if I did not dive into these topics enough in my paper.
As a regular user of TikTok and its predecessor Musical.ly ever since its emergence in 2016, I have recently noticed that a lot of other users have used the platform as a safe space to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Due to reasons I stated in my paper like being able to maintain anonymity, being able to experiment with identity, and separation from real world difficulties, there is a correlation between those who identify as homosexual and usage of TikTok. So to answer your question, the app has socially become an app which has a lot of LGBTQ+ representation, hence the stigma amongst social media users (especially of the app itself). I believe it rooted from the idea that is difficult not to wonder about or experiment with one’s sexuality when they are constantly fed content about homosexuality.
To answer your other question, I did find it quite difficult to find academic papers about the subject of TikTok and had to draw a lot from knowledge I had myself from my own regular usage and common topics about it I have noticed through social media. Although there were not many options to cite and find research from, I found this as a positive since I was able to precisely analyse the selection I had and dive deep into the particular research these academics have done.
– Rachelle 🙂
I strongly agree with your main argument that TikTok has facilitated sexual identity exploration. The online platform provides a safe space for people to experiment with new identities that they may otherwise not feel comfortable to express in their physical communities. I think this is particularly important for those living in conservative environments where they feel pressured to follow a common set of beliefs.
According to a study conducted by the Australian Institute, “older Australians are considerably more homophobic than young adults” (Flood & Hamilton, 2005). Considering that more old people are starting to use TikTok (19.4 percent of TikTok users are aged 40-50+ according to Pfeffer (2020)), do you think that younger people could become less willing to experiment with new sexual identities on TikTok out of fear of being judged by these older people?
Thanks for the great read!
If you have time, please check out my paper on Instagram and feminism! Here’s the link: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/28/instagram-celebrities-leading-a-new-wave-of-feminism/#comment-450
Flood, M., & Hamilton, C. (2005). Mapping homophobia in Australia (pp. 1-15). Canberra, Australia: Australia Institute.
Pfeffer, G. (2020, May 13). Why Middle-Aged and Older Women Are Trying TikTok. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/disrupt-aging/stories/info-2020/tiktok.html
In my personal opinion, I notice that TikTok and all other newer social media sites are mainly ‘ruled’ by the younger generations (approx. 15-25 year olds) and especially on TikTok, there seems to be a whole new type of comedy and level of comfort and relatability in sexuality expression compared to Instagram or Facebook. Because there is even more of a participatory culture, users develop their own comedy and trends surrounding expression which are most often followed and interacted with by other young people.
Since this base stands, it seems like it is the older people who should feel fear of being judged by the younger generations instead of vice versa. This is because their outdated and insignificant homophobia will not be taken by young people’s strong opinion towards all kinds of sexuality expression.
Last year there was a trend going around called ‘OK Boomer’, where young people reacted strongly against older people on and off social media who judged teenagers and young adults for outdated homophobic opinions. I noticed that these young people like myself could not care less about what other opposing young people say about them, let alone a generation as distant to them as the Baby Boomers.
There is also the recurring joke of ‘Karens’, which are essentially young people’s slang for older women who judge and attack others in public at an extreme level. Whenever someone inappropriately judges or makes assumptions about another person, they are immediately attacked online for ‘being a Karen’.
I believe younger generations are much more outspoken and accepting of the LGBTQ+ and other communities, knowing that their opinion matters and equality is ideal. Older generations may call young people more ‘sensitive’, but as a young person I believe we are just more understanding and welcoming so that no individual feels left out and only positivity can be spread.
What a terrific paper. I love Tik Tok, although I am not possibly the general cohort it attracts, I am the 40 something mum of two teenage girls who both love Tik Tok.
I think it is a great way to learn about sexuality especially from those who are working out who they are or those who are entirely comfortable with who they are. One of my daughter’s friends is trans, and she has told me how much she has learnt from other trans kids on Tik Tok. This enables her to support her friend in their own journey by seeing positive Tik Toks from others in that space.
Why do you think Tik Tok has been such a huge takeup from younger people? You can still make videos and distribute them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. What sets Tik Tok apart in your opinion? Its video editing capability just seems to get better.
This is so great to have a perspective like yours on my paper! It is so amazing to hear that your daughter has learnt how to support her trans friend through TikTok!
I believe TikTok has appealed so much to young people since it is way more fast-paced and ever-evolving compared to Facebook and Instagram. Facebook of course has almost gone extinct for young people around my age and younger, leaving it to the parents and grandparents, and Instagram now seems to be a place that remains in the middle-ground for people in their 20s and 30s. TikTok is simply just a newer site with a lot of new features that I am yet to see on other sites, and this appeals to teenagers and children who seem to always be looking for the next best trending thing! It also seems to have generated its own new type of comedy and level of relatability which is extremely interesting to think about.
Your perspective is very valuable! I was wondering if parents like yourself around your age use TikTok in their daily life? Do you personally see it as a more positive and inclusive site for the young generation and the LGBTQ+ community as more of an outsider?
Not only was this a well-needed paper, it was so fascinating to read.
TikTok over the past 18 months has become not only a space to advocate for the community but to share one’s journey to inspire and educate others. Speaking out has become so normalised and encouraged where it sets the bar for others on how everyone should be treated as equal.
The digital expression of the LGBTQIA+ community represent the struggles and minimalize marginalisation (Jackson, S, J., et al., 2019). With the advocacy shown on the app, it has very noticeably created sub-groups and niches for the community and those wanting to get involved. For some its a journey of self-discovery, as you mentioned.
With public support assisting in the success of advocacy (Rasmussen, A., et al, 2017), the normalisation and welcome towards these discussions and actions of self-discovery ample. The LGBTQIA+ community have different cultural needs (Keuroghlian, A, S., et al, 2017) so TikTok is able to cater towards them and their needs safely. Due to TikToks support and regulations protecting users, these groups have been able to flourish.
Thank you so much for your feedback!
The message of my paper really is about how a platform like TikTok can be a journey for self-discovery so I’m glad that idea came across well. Also, the last part where you mention that public support assists in the success of advocacy is very insightful and sums up my stand well so thank you!