TikTok is a significant social media platform which allows users to advocate for causes which they believe in. This paper will explore how feminism has created an online community on TikTok, and how effective it is in providing a solution to feminist issues. This paper will use popular hashtags and TikTok accounts to gather an unbiased impression and explore the popularity of different forms of content, in order to prove that feminist TikTok fails to reduce notions of toxic masculinity on the app.
The platforms which advocation takes place on is changing and is continuously evolving. In the past, the negative impact harmful masculine identities had on society was explored in the public sphere and over a longer period of time. However, social media has transformed the landscape of advocacy. Online platforms like TikTok have opened up a third place for networked publics to engage in hashtag activism and discussions about misogyny and feminism. These discussions are effective in raising awareness about women’s rights however they fall short in terms of forming solutions to result in a decrease in the expression of toxic masculinity online.
Because social media is widely available, easy to understand and easy to engage with, it is now a key driver in the continued push towards gender parity. The current focus on such social media is on changing the behaviour of men who cause negative impacts on society, through violence and aggression against women, and the villainization of feminine traits among men. By allowing conversations to occur in an environment most people have access to, these issues can be protested for in a manner which is largely noticed by the majority of the population.
TikTok as an Advocation Tool
There is a reason why social media is now at the forefront of assisting modern advocation, including for women’s rights. Posts on social media networks are very easy-to-digest, easy to create and share, and easy to access. This means that the necessary conversations advocates wish to create easily take place over the Internet.
While the Internet has been around since the 1990s, social media has only really been relevant in the past decade, since the prominence of the smartphone. Now, networks can be created on social media website for those who take a specific interest in something or someone. These “influencers” open up avenues for conversations to take place as their advocacy can be seen on a mass-level almost immediately (Church, Zhao, & Iyer, 2020). Because these posts can be seen almost immediately on such a wide-spread scale, advocacy movements utilise this to communicate their message.
An example of one of these influencers can be seen through Tenley Yearles, who posted a video in October 2019 of herself dancing to a recording of her abusive ex-boyfriend yelling at her (Yearles [@tenleyearles], 2019). This video allowed for avenues to be opened up which resulted in conversations about violence against women. Yearles therefore used her TikTok account to spread her message widely across the app. The video has over 870,000 likes.
It is therefore evident that many TikTok users are using the app as an advocation tool and can communicate to wide network of feminists on the app due to the app’s design.
Feminism before the Social Media Age
When understanding modern history, major movements in feminism have been described as “waves of feminism” (Bennet, 1989), and have occurred on the tail-end of a massive shift in globalised institutional and industrial advances.
The first “wave” arrived on the tail-end of the industrial revolution and involved creating a landscape where women were provided with more opportunities and eventually resulted with women being allowed to vote in America (Rampton, 2015). The second “wave” started in the 1960s, after World War II, in the wake of mass civil rights movements and anti-war protests, many minority groups (women, people of colour, LGBTQ people) were being advocated for (Rampton, 2015). The third “wave” of feminism began on the tail of the postmodern era, in the mid 1990s.
All of these different eras of feminist activism have set up the advocacy landscape to result in its current incarnation through digital communities. This new, online, form of feminism can be seen to follow the mass digitisation of the current world, and hence follows this consistent trend of “waves” of feminism.
The current digital movement working to combat “toxic masculinity”
Social media is objectively at the forefront of the movement which aims to combat toxic masculinity. Although toxic masculinity is a nuanced term, this paper will explore toxic masculinity as a notion of “violence and aggression” in masculine identities which is primarily derivative from misogyny (Salter, 2019). This movement aims to expose unjust and unfair displays of misogyny and sexism from men, through methods such as calling out sexual assault, and through the breaking down of traditional masculine/feminine stereotypes.
This movement has created multiple communities throughout different platforms, such as the feminist movement found on TikTok. TikTok allows for the posting and promotion of short videos limited to a maximum of one minute long. It hosts a large range of different vibrant communities, considering its roughly 1.5billion users (Weimann and Masri 2020). TikTok acts as a third place for such communities to exist through the use of its algorithm. This algorithm is set up in a way where different users can discover others with similar interests to easily discover once another, as videos are suggested to users based on their reactions to previously shown videos.
There are multitudes of different factors which the TikTok algorithm uses to determine what makes a video similar to another. Videos which use the same sound are more likely to be shown to the same user, along with videos by creators who have formed communities with similar creators. A major contributor to what makes a video similar to another is the hashtags which it uses (Anderson 2020). Common keywords are used by creators in the feminist community on TikTok to reach one another and engage in discussion.
Hashtag Activism on Feminist TikTok
Hashtags are used on TikTok in order to engage in certain discussions within a digitised community. One example can be seen in TikTok’s feminist community, through the breaking down of traditional masculine and feminine stereotypes. This is done in order to support the notion that no person should feel they have to adhere to an expectation that does not co-align with their identity. An example of a hashtag in this instance is #toxicmasculinity, with users and influencers who are not women wearing clothes which are stereotypically designated for women to wear (skirts, dresses, high heels, blouses, corsets, etc.). An example of one of these influencers is Griffin Maxwell Brooks, who regular wears women’s clothes in their videos in order to emphasise that they are not only for women (Brooks [@griffinmaxwellbrooks], 2021). The emergence of people such as Brooks has grown rapidly on social media in the past few years, due to the ease of use and accessibility. These feminine stereotypes aren’t limited to clothing, but also includes emotions, behaviours, hobbies, and much more.
Another popular hashtag that is used by TikTok’s feminist network is #97%, which was created after a study was released from UN Women UK in 2021. This study of over 1000 women revealed that only 3% of women had never experienced any behaviours relating to sexual harassment against them (UN Women UK, 2021). The revelation that 97% of women had been subjected to some level of sexual harassment sparked conversation among online communities, especially those who stand up for feminism and equality. Numerous posts have been contributed to the #97% hashtag, calling out behaviour which fosters toxic masculinity such as “unsolicited dick pic senders,” “catcallers,” and other men who act inappropriately to women (Ashley [@morgannashley], 2021) among numerous others. The #97% hashtag is just one of multiple viral hashtags which are used in order to advocate for this cause. Others include #rapeculture, #metoo and #femicide. All these hashtags have over 15 million views on TikTok, with #97% having over 329 million views.
The massive viewership of these hashtags reveals that a large, digitised network are watching these videos and interacting with them. These interactions occur completely online, where TikTok has been used as the third place to engage in feminist discussion. This community has therefore been effective in raising awareness about feminist rights and issues with some aspects of masculine identity.
Toxic Masculinity on TikTok
While TikTok’s feminist community are effective in reaching others interested in their cause and sparking discussions regarding toxic masculinity, there is no evidence that this work has resulted in the decrease in the presence of such harmful behaviour online.
Because TikTok’s algorithm connects users with similar interests, it would not suggest feminism-related content to users who are not interested in it (Rentschler 2017). Hence, similar to the feminist community that was created on TikTok, a network of “toxic” men could just as easily be created.
However, the powerful advocation by feminists on TikTok would be noticed by a certain percentage of these men due to casual algorithmic suggestion. Seeing these discussions would invoke these men to create a response such as #notallmen, which suggests that the toxic behaviour exhibited by the men which is being called out is only descriptive of a certain percentage of men and not all of them. The fact that this response was created by men in order to defend themselves shows that some men aren’t willing to change their behaviour and are defensive of the fact that they would be “called out,” instead of being willing to listen to the feminists on the app trying to discuss the issue and work towards a solution.
A quick search through TikTok can show how this behaviour is still large and present. In October 2020, @theswayla posted a video of Jaden Hossler, who’s face is being gripped by Anthony Reeves as if they are about to kiss (@theswayla, 2020). With the context that both these men are straight, it is evident that video is poking fun at homosexuality and men who don’t typically fit in to the traditional roles of straight men. Evidently, toxic masculine behaviour is still exhibited and celebrated largely on the app.
Feminism is a large and present advocation cause in modern society. In modern history, a large portion of the advocation for this cause has been online, due to recent technological advancements resulting in the digitisation of modern society. TikTok allows for conversations about women’s rights to occur, and a large network of feminists do engage in these discussions and participate in hashtag activism. However, due to the algorithmic traits of TikTok, the videos do not make much of a presence of users who are not feminists. The response to feminism and the exhibition of misogynistic behaviour found on TikTok reveals how the feminist movement is failing to diminish the amount of toxic masculinity in society, no matter how large the digitised feminist network is.
Anderson, Katie Elson. 2020. “Getting Acquainted With Social Networks And Apps: It Is Time To Talk About Tiktok”. Library Hi Tech News 37 (4): 7-12. doi:10.1108/lhtn-01-2020-0001.
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Salter, M. (2019). The Problem with a Fight Against Toxic Masculinity. The Atlantic, 27.
@theswayla, (2020). Retrieved April 1, 2021 from https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSJSfVnXC/
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Yearles, Tenley [@tenleyearles] (2019). Retrieved April 1, 2021, from https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSJSfT5Yt/
47 thoughts on “The Failure of Feminist TikTok’s Attempt to Combat Toxic Masculinity”
What a great read! Your mention of the tik tok algorithm only showing people content similar to what they interact with reminded me of this podcast by the new york times https://www.nytimes.com/column/rabbit-hole
Not an overly analytical comment but thought you and others may enjoy 🙂
That podcast looks so interesting! I’m planning to have a listen to a few episodes in the coming week 🙂
I really enjoyed reading your paper and found the points about how men are defensive creating the tag #notallmen instead of acknowledging their power, privilege and role in societies equal treatment of women, working towards change.
I actually just read Rhabiya’s paper, https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/29/metoo-breaking-taboos-raising-awareness-empowering-and-uniting-victims-around-the-world/#comment-3202celebrities-leading-a-new-wave-of-feminism/ ,
…, which I commented upon discussing how men should not be victimising themselves, rather looking at how they can learn how to engage with their female peers and colleagues.
These remarks I found quite interesting:
“While TikTok’s feminist community are effective in reaching others interested in their cause and sparking discussions regarding toxic masculinity, there is no evidence that this work has resulted in the decrease in the presence of such harmful behaviour online.”
“The response to feminism and the exhibition of misogynistic behaviour found on TikTok reveals how the feminist movement is failing to diminish the amount of toxic masculinity in society”
I feel like it’s a very bold claim to say that these feminist TikToks are not reducing toxic masculinity. Perhaps because the platform is still relatively new, there has not been a study conducted yet. Further, the user demographic of Tik Tok is quite young and perhaps they are at an age where education on how to treat women properly is critical before they begin to display misogynistic behaviour. These Tik Tok’s may not be causing drastic reductions in misogyny, but may be gradually reducing it and hopefully preventing it from occurring in the first place through education of young men.
Thanks for reading my paper! It is true that most TikTok users are quite young. They should not be the ones with the responsibility to “fix” toxic masculinity and that education on the platform can raise the current youth to be more aware in ways previous generations couldn’t. I think TikTok is great in being able to provide a place for that to happen.
I guess my main concern is with the users on the older end of Gen Z and above (so probably from around the ages of 17-18 and higher), where their behaviours start to become more consistent for the rest of their lives. I find that a lot of effort is spent “combatting” men above this age who are displaying toxic masculinity. But if they’re finding success on TikTok while displaying this behaviour, I don’t have faith that any attempt to combat it will do anything.
I loved this paper! I think it’s a topic that isn’t talked about enough in my opinion.
Toxic masculinity can often be a taboo and tricky subject to board on.
TikTok has become one of the most popular social media platforms in modern-day society.
I think that one of the main reasons it is so popular is because it gives such agency for people to express themselves and what they stand for. Feminist TikTok is one of the most. growing topics on the app and it is such a powerful and wonderful stream of women and men supporting women and their rights.
However, with the rise of feminist TikTok, there are many videos that have been shown to be controversial in the way that women may be pushing away the topic of toxic masculinity. According to Kathleen Elliot “It highlights the magnitude of our failure, as a society, to address toxic, simplified masculinity and the unequal power dynamics on which it thrives”(2018. p. 17).
I will often see videos where people will respond to a specific video, where the responder will bash or make fun of what the original video has said or done. Of course, there are many sexist and abusive TikTok users out there, but the function of responding to videos in that way, I think, can be heavily damaging. In relation to the topic of toxic masculinity, feminist TikTok will often take away the voice of certain male-related topics, which I think is the opposite of what TikTok was intended for.
Have a great day!
Elliott, K. (2018). Challenging toxic masculinity in schools and society. On the Horizon, 26(1), 17-22. doi:http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1108/OTH-11-2017-0088
I love that quote from Elliot. I hate and am so uncomfortable with the fact that where we are at right now is the “most equal” we have ever been, because there is such a long way to go.
I’m very glad feminism is so big on Tiktok – along with other activist causes such as those fighting racism and homophobia. In my opinion, this is due to the much larger Gen Z cohort on the platform, especially when compared to other platforms such as Facebook.
A study from Pew Research Center in 2018 found that more member of Gen Z are more progressive. They found that only 22% of Gen Z’s surveyed approved of how Donald Trump handled his presidency, which was lower than all other generations (Pew Research Center, 2021).
Do you think TikTok would be a lot more dangerous place if it was targeted at a different generation – such as millenials or Gen X? I feel like it would be vastly different.
Just realised I forgot to attach my sources! Please see below:
Pew Research Center. (2021). What We Know About Gen Z So Far. Retrieved 17 May 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/
I really enjoyed reading your paper, it explored a very interesting and relevant topic. As a TikTok user myself, I see a lot of feminism advocacy content, which aims to educate and raise awareness, with some created in a satirical manner which mock the gender stereotypes and mysoginistic cultural views. I have however also seen content which reinforces the notion of toxic masculinity.
I like how you mention that the affordances of TikTok as a platform only show the user videos similar to the ones in which they choose to view, therefore meaning those who do not support feminist based views may not have any of these videos appear in their feeds.
Once again, this was an insightful and very well written paper, well done!
Thanks for all your feedback! I am interested to know what you think the ratio is when comparing how much feminist content you see on Tiktok, to content with notions of toxic masculinity in it. From my understanding on the algorithm, I would assume that the feminist content is much more prominent than the latter.
I really enjoyed your paper and as a TikTok user I want to share my experience on this platform. Firstly, unlike other social media platforms, TikTok hardly filter contents uploaded by the users. They hardly censor contents related to violence and sexuality. Thus, this gives a lot of freedom for hate contents to be produced and distributed without facing the risk of being taken down. I see masculine toxicity very often but it is act that both agree to participate. Most of the time the portrayal of a toxic male is often made up and it is a form of satire that some people do not understand. I have also spotted the empowerment of women as they are more popular content creators than male. Do you think that TikTok will be able to filter masculine toxicity ?
Please check out my paper: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/amateurism-vs-professionalism-who-will-prevail-in-the-digital-era/#comment-2536
I found your paper really interesting especially as a TikTok user myself. I found it really interesting that it wasn’t so much the content being produced being a hindrance instead it is the algorithm that limits the feminist message being spread. I think it’s really important to understand that TikTok is essentially reliant upon an echo chamber system to keep itself running and interesting to its users making it astronomically more difficult for advocacy to be effective, although it does work to validate common experiences between users and build a community for people who are unfortunately subjected to toxic masculinity.
Something I was wondering was whether you thought, despite the inability to properly spread the feminist message, whether it is still a form of feminist activism to be supporting women who are a part of the 97% or who have suffered under toxic masculinity.
Also, My paper talks about how Islamophobia is relevant online and it might be an interesting read for you as it discusses echo chambers and the lack of monitoring by the companies. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/27/how-online-islamophobia-goes-unmonitored-and-the-toll-it-takes-in-reality/?unapproved=2310&moderation-hash=3b67984305003544ee7fee656ad4b515#comment-2310
Thank you for your comments!! I agree with the fact that people do not seem to keep in mind the fact that TikTok is largely dependent on an echo chamber system in order to remain entertaining. Advocacy is fully possible through the formations of communities and discussions among them.
I definitely think that it is still feminism when people support other women, especially when discussing toxic masculinity, the 97% statistic or anything along those lines. I believe there isn’t just one single way to be a feminist. Everyone has their own unique methods and skills.
Additionally to this, I would like to express that the only form of feminism I see on TikTok which I think is struggling to fully integrate with the platform is that focused on “calling out” other users.
There are so many users who help with things such as; education, event organisation, community growth and support, role modelling, film exploration, content observation and analysis, and art. All of these things can be done through a feminist expression and I believe are all very successful on TikTok
Thank you for a really interesting read! I have also looked at TikTok for my conference paper so I have been endeavouring to read all the papers that have covered this platform. Although my paper looks at the way that communities have formed on the site due to it’s unique affordances, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I thought you might be interested in the work of feminist academic Dr. Carolina Are, who is a researcher, activist, blogger and pole dance instructor (https://bloggeronpole.com/about/). Her research centres around content moderation and algorithmic biases on social media platforms. I was interested to read some of her work as she speaks both from an academic standpoint and from her own personal experiences as a pole dancer. She advocates for platforms to do more to address their own biases and moderation practices (Are, 2020).
I recently read this article in Technology Review by Charlotte Jee – “A feminist internet would be better for everyone” and I would recommend that you give it a read. I was struck by the factor that in 1984 the tech industry was 34% female and it is currently only 20% without much movement from that figure (Jee, 2021). As you would assume, this means that women’s voices aren’t being heard when this technology is being created which means these platforms are inherently biased.
TikTok is supposed to be making a major commitment to combat gender-based violence “at the Generation Equality Forum, a UN-sponsored gathering for gender equality set to be held in Paris in late June” (Jee, 2021). Do you think this could make a difference? Or are new social media platforms like ‘Herd – https://www.theherdapp.com/‘ the solution for a more equable internet experience for women?
Are, C. (2020). How Instagram’s algorithm is censoring women and vulnerable users but helping online abusers. Feminist Media Studies, 20(5), 741–744. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2020.1783805
Jee, C. (2021, May 7). Why a more feminist internet would be better for everyone. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/04/01/1020478/feminist-internet-culture-activist-harassment-herd-signal/
Hi Madison! It’s really impressive that you’ve set yourself the goal of reading every paper on TikTok – I’m sure there’s quite a lot.
I found Jee’s article very interesting. It’s harrowing to see that not only are women are immediately more subject to online abuse, but if they’re “people of color or LGBTQ+, or have a public-facing job as a politician or journalist, it’s worse” (Jee, 2021).
I like what you say on the fact that women don’t get to have a much of a say in the creation of these platforms. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, WhatsApp are all widely different social media platforms, however one of the things they have in common is that they were all invented by men.
I was surprised when I discovered I’d never heard of Herd (and then discovered that it isn’t actually on smartphones for another 5 days – which might be partially why). It looks like a great app if it is able to take off! I do think that existing apps have the power to combat gender inequality if they have the motivation to do so. Just yesterday, Instagram introduced a feature where users can include their pronouns on their account, a feature relatively unseen on any other platform. I believe TikTok could follow this example and work to redefine their guidelines so that inappropriate ideologies and behaviours can be banned. It is more about whether they are willing to do so, knowing that they may lose some of their userbase.
What an interesting choice of topic and community to dive into! Your paper was very insightful and well-researched and I definitely gained some insights into TikTok and the feminist community. It’s great seeing different perspectives on this topic as it has become an extremely significant topic. With the number of criticism people receive on TikTok, I was not surprised, to say the least, with the failure to combat toxic masculinity and this angers me to the core because men feel as though they have very right to belittle women and especially after the #metoo movement, I would’ve thought toxic masculinity would have decreased as it is a severe issue in our society.
With that being said, do you think TikTok isn’t the right platform in terms of eradicating and raising awareness on such issues due to the criticism and how judgemental the users on this app are?
I think the main problem with toxic masculinity is that what causes these behaviours isn’t eradicated. It is my full belief that the roots of these behaviours is how men are brought up. In schools, men have been typically shielded from learning about female health, consent, respectful behaviour, etc. Girls are told to cover up so as to not “distract” boys, instead of boys being taught to keep their eyes to themselves. I feel that if we addressed this “institutionalised” misogyny, we would have an easier time eradicating toxic masculinity, especially as younger men would be able to call out unacceptable actions shown by older men.
Ideas such as this have circled about on my TikTok For You page, and I think it’s great that myself and others can learn things such as this from the app. In this sense, I think TikTok is actually a great platform for raising awareness on these issues. However, the message spread around will only be seen by those who it is recommended to, so I believe that feminists on TikTok should focus more on eradicating toxic masculinity off of the platform, and use the app purely as a centre for discussion and engagement.
I really enjoyed reading your paper on such an interesting and important topic. It is really well written and clear to understand. 🙂
I found it interesting how you mentioned that these videos are shown to users based on their previously viewed videos, which means that they would actually not be shown to people who are not engaging with this kind of content.
TikTok definitely has potential for great social change and awareness. Perhaps it would be beneficial for the application to enable these kind of videos to have a stronger presence across the entire TikTok community, I think this would help to spread awareness and aim to diminish this kind of behaviour, instead of limiting these videos to people who have a similar watched history on this kind of content.
The statistic of 97% sounds so shocking when reading the number, but when I think about it, it does make sense and really isn’t so surprising. I don’t think I would have any female friends who haven’t experienced some form of harassment, things like catcalling are so common now that people are just used to it. When I was younger I would hate walking past construction sites because I would always get cat called and it it was so uncomfortable to walk past there! Felt like the longest 20 seconds of walking in my life! I think this kind of behaviour is so prevalent in society that people have just ‘accepted’ and become used to it, when really it is something that should be addressed more seriously. Social media definitely has the reach to help combat this and spread awareness on this issue.
Thanks for your comments on my paper! TikTok does have a very large and strong presence in the current age, especially with the modern youth. I think it works wonders in providing a place for discussion, and allowing for the organisation of things such as rallies, protests, meet-ups, etc.
Whenever I think about the 97% statistic, I know absolutely that it is such a present part of our community that a lot of inexcusable behaviour goes by unnoticed. Which is probably why I was so shocked about the statistic at first, but soon realised that if I thought about it, this kind of behaviour is everywhere around us.
Like Ruby and Kristy, I came into reading your paper with a good deal of apprehension, expecting it to disparage feminism, but came out nodding my head vigorously! This is just one example of how algorithmically created echo chambers have the potential to exacerbate societal issues.
It’s interesting that you point to these examples of toxic masculinity on Tik Tok, as I have never seen anything on that app that wasn’t either progressive or completely apolitical. In contrast, I used to see plenty of objectionable content, such as women being viewed as completely passive beings who could be “stolen” by a man, on Vine just a few years ago. The algorithms that show us just what we want to see really have come a long way in a very short period of time.
Where I do disagree with you is around where the change needs to take place. I think that, while offline work is important too, social networking sites such as Tik Tok have a moral obligation to work towards breaking up these echo chambers, and that governments need to take more of a role in governing this; and also that digital literacy and critical thinking skills education needs to be incorporated in messages from SNSs, ISPs, etc, to their users/customers. A recent example of this starting to appear is the way Twitter and Facebook have hidden misinformation behind a disclaimer, but I believe a lot more can, and should, be done.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and look forward to hearing from you soon! I’d also love to hear your thoughts on my own paper: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/as-a-hyperlocal-form-of-social-media-nextdoor-helps-neighbours-connect-but-not-always-for-the-better/
Thankyou for your comments! I agree with your statement in that I don’t really see a lot of examples of toxic masculinity on TikTok. However, through my research I discovered that the echo chamber that the app had put my account into meant that I rarely saw content that contradicted my own personal beliefs.
When I first started researching on the topic, I had created an entirely new TikTok account to see what an “unbiased” For You page would look like. Albeit a lot of dancing videos were present at first, I quickly found that a lot of what I saw was very different to what I normally saw on my personal account.
It is interesting to see your views on where this change needs to take place. I suppose I do agree with you in the fact that TikTok has a moral obligation to break up echo chambers – however I do not have faith that TikTok would go in that direction. TikTok seems to be performing very well as it currently is, I’m not entirely sure if they would be willing to do something to jeopardise that.
In regards to governments intervening in the governance of what appears on TikTok – I do not see a clear way of this being achieved any time soon. While I think it could potentially work wonders in erasing harmful notions of misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc., I think it would open up too easy an avenue for propaganda, corruption and censorship and be very dangerous. Additionally, it seems that a “war” between social media platforms and governments is brewing.
Countries such as Australia and the United States have toyed with the idea of banning the app (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-05/prime-minister-scott-morrison-says-government-wont-ban-tiktok/12526246) due to fears of data leaks linked to China. However I can’t help but wonder if it actually because TikTok seems to be a platform where those who are interested in rallying, protesting, etc. can engage with each other and discuss/organise action (as seen with the Black Lives Matter movement).
Australia also had a week-long “news blackout” on Facebook earlier this year (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56165015) because they wanted to introduce legislation which would govern journalism on the platform, at a fee. The fact that Facebook had the power to just “turn off” the news in Australia shows how much control these platforms have over modern society.
Thankyou for the discussion and your comments!
You’re absolutely right, there is definitely a risk of governments having too much power and silencing their own critics, spreading propaganda, etc. It’s a difficult line to walk.
Your point about the potential reasons behind considering banning the app is really interesting; I tend to agree that there is definitely more to it. Ironic given that the concerns about the Chinese government’s influence in media are usually around censorship and propaganda. My partner constantly tells me to delete Tik Tok but has no problem dotting Google Homes all around our house to always be ready to listen to us – not that I have an issue with that either, but I’m also not going to get rid of Tik Tok 🙂
I tend to be of the opinion that less government influence on communication channels is more dangerous than more, in most cases – the Facebook example you give is a great example of a government coming face to face with the impact of their lack of governance in that area. It’s all well and good for them to come in and try to legislate where profits are, but the fact they have done nothing over the last three decades to mitigate the power private companies like Facebook and Google have, means that Facebook really can call the shots now. The book “Algorithms of Oppression” by Safiya Umoja Noble goes into detail on this and is really a great read.
Your comments reminded me of a positive step taken by Tik Tok in December last year, when they banned promotion of multi-level marketing and other pyramid schemes, which is pervasive on other social media, particularly Facebook. This is a great example of something a social media company can do to demonstrate a social conscience and influence the way their platform is used for the better. (See: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/12/tiktok-bans-multilevel-marketing-mlm/617422/)
I think its so funny you mention the about the Google Homes…I’m also obsessed with them. Would be interesting to see how much the internet knows about me considering my willingness to digitise my entire home and to use TikTok.
I’m so cautious of society slowly becoming more and more like one of those dystopian movies that I’ve always seen as being so farfetched. A lot of them seem to use governments as “the big bad” and I’ve grown up to be naturally distrustful of governments with too much power.
But you are correct in that they should have done something earlier about major private companies such as Facebook/Google if they did want to do something about them. Now, they’re so large they can afford to do pretty much whatever they want.
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of these actions by TikTok on multi-level marketing, despite all my recent research. I wonder if TikTok did this purely for social justice reasons, or if they did it for their own benefit (I know that if I was getting bombarded with MLM pitches I would probably use their app less)
I must admit I was a little apprehensive about reading your paper. I thought it may be an attack on feminism on TikTok, but I am glad I was wrong! I really enjoyed reading it. I also wrote a paper about TikTok but did not get to explore how the app can place users in echo chambers.
I think it’s super important for users to keep in mind that just because they are seeing content on their For You Page that is progressive and inclusive, doesn’t mean everyone’s algorithm is showing them that type content.
I was wondering if in your research came across Axel Bruns’ article ‘Filter Bubble’ (2019), I found it to be a really interesting analysis on how social media is creating a more polarised society.
Bruns, A. (2019). Filter bubble. Internet Policy Review, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.14763/2019.4.1426
I loved reading through the Bruns’ article! I definitely agree with it and I believe it make a very strong case as to how social media is used to shape political ideologies and polarise these ‘echo chambers’!
Thankyou for suggesting that read to me! I very much enjoyed it and I found it to be very engaging and relevant to what I had been speaking on.
No worries, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
I loved the discussion held in this paper, it is well researched and presented and is a great overview of the limitations of TikTok as a platform for social change. I wrote a paper discussing feminism on TikTok as well and found it so interesting and complex so I loved reading a different perspective on the topic! I will admit, before reading it I was apprehensive as I had assumed that it would descend into a general attack on feminist discourse and activism on TikTok, I was clearly mistaken.
I specifically enjoyed the discussion of #97% as I saw it all over my TikTok foryou page. I’m not sure if you came across this in your research but what I found interesting (and frustrating) about the hashtag was that it was used out of the context of the original study which caused people to dismiss the statistic altogether and attack women who used it to discuss their personal experiences. I was curious as to whether you found similar cases in other hashtags in your research?
Hi Grace! Thankyou for your nice comments on my paper!
I agree with you totally in that people would just brush over the fact that in a room of 100 women, only THREE of them on average would not have been subjected to this. It almost feels like there is a direct attempt at trivialising the statistic and normalising it in our minds when it really is a shocking statistic.
Honestly, I think this is present in most hashtag activism, at least on TikTok where humour is so prevalent. I remember when the #BLM was very present on my feed, there would be some users who were white and claiming that because they had a few traits which were stereotypical of black Americans (being good at basketball, having longer penises, etc. – mainly culturally agreed upon stereotypes) that they weren’t privileged.
In the end, I think it comes down to the fact that some people are uncomfortable about the fact that they are a member of a group which has caused forms of oppression and inequality. They’re embarrassed about it and try to prove that they’re better than their peers (which no one is asking for – advocation is more about trying to solve problems from the roots).
Coming back from my tangent, I think this is why people are so different to prove that its #notallmen. One of the best retaliations which really drives the point for me is “no it’s not all men, but it is all women”. That idea really struck a chord with me and is one of the main reasons I chose to start exploring this topic when I was formulating a thesis.
A great paper that tackles a difficult issue, I really enjoyed reading about a topic that I am very interested. Being on TikTok for only a short while I have briefly seen how all over the place the app is, on one video you will see a video that some people would classify as “dark humour” but in reality its racist, sexist or bullying wheres on another video it will be motivational and empowering. Based off you saying that Feminist TikTok fails to combat toxic masculinity do you think that TikTok isn’t the right app for raising awareness on such an important topic or does TikTok need to be regulated better and position themselves in making the app more of a “safe space” for users where there is more promotion on raising awareness?
Thankyou for your comments! Dark humour is definitely present throughout all of TikTok and some of what I see can be quite damaging. For instance, men saying that a girl upset them and now he’s “part of the 97%” (I can’t find the video right now but if I do I’ll be sure to put the link in here). I find this so dangerous as it seems to trivialise the shocking fact that 97% of women have experienced sexual assault.
Yes, I don’t think TikTok is the right platform for combatting toxic masculinity, however I think it works wonders in raising awareness, for those who are interested in the cause. Personally, I learnt so much about the BLM movement through TikTok.
I don’t think TikTok could survive a dramatic rewrite such as changing their regulation. While it is used effectively for advocacy, it is still primarily an entertainment platform. Efforts to create a “safe space” could result in a large percentage of users abandoning it, the same way Tumblr dramatically lost users after their rewrote their policies on nudity.
I completely agree with your paper. Identifying as a feminist myself, I often get frustrated that the topic of toxic masculinity is never taken seriously by a generalist audience of men, and that the feminist movement is even more-so of a joke to some individuals. My favourite paragraph was the one where you discussed the 97% statistics, and I myself have seen this hashtag make its way across TikTok and even onto Instagram. The fact that statistically speaking, countless women have experienced assault and harassment by men and are trying to advocate for change, however the ones inflicting the damage barely see it as a second thought. Some additional citations in the beginning paragraphs would be good to support your work and make your argument more hard-hitting 🙂
How do you think men, young men especially, can be influenced in a positive way by what they’re experiencing on TikTok and across social media? Do you think these social movements will change their minds and actions towards how they treat women?
Please consider reading up on my paper titled “How the ‘misconception of perfection’ by Instagram Influencers encourages impressionable followers to purchase endorsed products that contribute to idolised body standards.” I talk about how Influencers must create a plastic perception of themselves in order to gain brand sponsorships and endorsements. However, they are setting a negative example for impressionable followers who then develop self-image issues regarding who they admire online.
I agree – I find it very disheartening to see so many people not take toxic masculinity seriously, and so many act like feminism is a joke. I think it’s gotten to the point where some feminists feel the need to advocate through humour just to be heard.
In response to your question, I have quite a disheartened view of how TikTok can influence men in a positive way. If they act in harmful ways, they probably like harmful content and the algorithm probably suggests videos with toxic behaviour exhibited within. I only hope that seeing the extreme misogyny on there could potentially “wake up” some young men, or hope that some feminist content is able to seep through the cracks in the algorithm and resonate with some. Using typically misogynist tags such as #notallmen could be a way at tackling this.
Great paper and an interesting topic!
I am also interested in Kristy’s question to you about whether combating toxic masculinity is the only goal of Tik Tok’s feminist community?
The research I have come across in relation to feminist hashtag activism suggest women and girls largely interact with feminist hashtags to tell their own stories and feel part of a supportive and likeminded network. However the research I am talking about is limited to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Tik Tok is a very new platform in comparison. When researching for your paper, did you find any limitations or gaps in studies in Tik Tok feminism in particular?
You might also be interested to read my paper which explores the power and limitations of feminist hashtag activism:
Hey Elissa! Thanks for reading through my paper! I’m definitely on my way to check out yours now as it appears we have quite similar topics!
As I mentioned in my reply to Kristy’s comment, I do agree that feminist TikTok is maybe not focused on just combatting toxic masculinity. While your research was limited to different social media platforms than what I explored, I believe that the same sentiment transcends through into TikTok, albeit it does go about it in a different way.
TikTok mainly succeeds as primarily a space for entertainment. Most content trying to advocate tends to fall into one of two criteria; either using humour as a way to coincide with TikTok’s entertainment structure, or using invasive methods to shock viewers into watching the full video. Both of these are things I don’t see as much on other platforms (that being said, the new feature of Reels on Instagram would probably behave in a similar way).
Hi Thomas, thanks for your reply!
Yes, I agree with your comments about TikTok falling in to mainly the two criteria of entertainment or shock. You’re right – we don’t really see these types of content as much on the other platforms. I think even Instagram’s Reels feature falls short in achieving what TikTok can do. I think Instagram has too many other affordances for the Reels to really take off in the same way that it does on TikTok. Instagram’s success comes mostly from the stories and standard photo posts
Tik Tok is definitely a good subject for further research and discussion for digital media academics out there.
Great read! I wanted to hate it to be honest. I wanted to disgaree and be outraged by a person called Thomas weighing in on the success of feminism on Tik Tok. But here in lies the problem, we need to all be open minded when discussing such topics to move forward and as your paper points out, its not possible for everyone to engage especially if they aren’t being exposed to it. So thank-you for broaching the topic in an open way.
Here is my question to you. You say that feminism on Tik Tok has failed to change toxic masculinity on the platform. Do you think that is the only goal of these posts and hashtags on social media though? I feel like the point of these arent just to change behaviour immediately but to change society as a whole. Maybe TikTok doesn’t have the reach to touch everybody, but TikToks are shareable to other platforms and they get an organic discussion going in real life too where algorithms aren’t responsible for conversation.
I’m glad you also mentioned how platforms such as TikTok can easily be a breeding ground for anti-feminist types of groups. Is there a place for both?
Thank you for your comments on my paper! I have to admit, I was very concerned to be addressing this topic as a cisgender male, however I did hope that it carried across that I don’t have any problems with feminist as I believe I am quite a strong feminist myself. I do however have very little faith in the feminist cause being able to effectively tackle toxic masculinity on TikTok, so I did try to show that my concern is with TikTok, not feminism.
I think it’s very interesting that you brought up how there might be more than just one goal to feminist advocacy on TikTok. I definitely think that is the case. TikTok is a great platform for forming digital communities, and I think it definitely has a very strong and vibrant feminist community.
While TikToks can be shared to other platform, I do think that it would be a very small percentage of them that do get shared compared to the ones that just exist and live purely on the app. Unfortunately I once again don’t have much faith on their existence outside of TikTok. People who aren’t wanting to watch that content will simple not watch it – however I think that is also a seperate issue outside the realm of which we are discussing.
I like the term breeding ground. Like I said before, TikTok is a great place for the birth and existence of so many different digital communities. While I mainly shone the limelight on the digital feminist community, I came across some very shocking discoveries in my research. TikTok appears to have become one of the main locations for neo-Nazis to interact! I also read up on a movement dating last Saturday, April 24th as “National Rape Day”. It was the most disgusting thing I had seen on the app in ages, and made me very glad that I don’t get any content like that.
How vile for a platform to allow such a thing! TikTok clearly has a long way to go in terms of keeping it a safe space for all. What kind of responsibility do you think platforms like TikTok have for keeping online communities safe?
Unfortunately, the misogyny seen on TikTok is part of a much larger issue as I found in my research. Patriarchial ideals about women and how they should act influence how women are seen and see each other. Friedman (2010) whose paper on “Mothering on the Internet” heavily influenced my own, found that mums online perpetuate patriarchal notions by imposing the same expectations on themselves and other community members. It is interesting that feminism hasn’t seemed to quite hit this corner of the internet either, which further proves your points about the failures to use such platforms to promote feminism. I wonder if feminism needs a new PR person and a massive rebrand!
Friedman, M. (2010). It Takes a (Virtual) Village: Mothering on the Internet. In A. O’Reilly (Ed.), Twenty-First Century Motherhood: Experience, Identity, Policy, Agency (pp. 352-365). Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/orei14966.26
The link to Friedman’s paper doesn’t seem to work… however I was able to google for some information on the paper and reading through that alone was very insightful!
I think its very bizarre how there are specific things which people think mothers have to do to be seen as a good mother, and that a lot of these unnecessary expectations (because I do believe some expectations for parents are understandable) do seem to stem from patriarchal roots.
I definitely agree that misogyny on TikTok is only one small area where misogyny is rife throughout society. The good thing is, the feminist community that I see on TikTok does appear to largely reject a lot of patriarchal expectations in place of free will. It is just sad that it does not get to extend beyond this online community.
Feminism is always going to be evolving and I strongly believe that we are already witnessing the 4th wave of feminism, along with so many other major civil rights movements. I’m hoping that means we’ll naturally be seeing a “rebrand” along with a continuous growth in the movement’s progression.
Hey Tom, if you did want to read it you probably have to log in to Oasis and Curtains Library – anywho if you do this is the link http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/detail.action?docID=895132
This is a very interesting and important topic, especially in the era of the “Me Too” movement and problems uncovered about the abuse of women in the Australian Government. It is disheartening to hear that toxic masculinity is still so prevalent when we often hear about Tik Tok being used to make changes to social issues. Unfortunately, I think the issue is so large, changes across all society need to be made before there is any real difference.
During your research, did you come across ways that Tik Tok users can successfully help push the feminist cause on the site? Do you think there needs to be changes to the algorithms?
Hi Tiffany! Thankyou for reading my paper, I really appreciate the in-depth application to it to current Australian events. I think it’s definitely not surprising that we can find misogynistic content on sites like TikTok when we have politicians such as Senator Reynolds who will prioritise their political gain (for themselves and their party) over the right of women.
Honestly, I don’t think TikTok will ever be the site to push the feminist cause successfully, at least purely on the site. Of course some people might see the feminist cause on TikTok and choose to become more alert or aware of their behaviour. I do think however that based on how TikTok is designed as an entertainment platform, the feminist cause cannot effectively combat toxic masculinity in a head-on manner.
While I would love to see the algorithm changed so that misogyny could be tackled a bit more head-on. However I think that a change in the algorithm in this way would disturb TikTok as a platform entirely and inevitably lead to the site losing traction and potentially shutting down. I know that at least in my case, if I was constantly being shown videos that aren’t in my interests, I would find that my “for you” page wouldn’t really be for me. I’m fully of the belief that if a misogynist starts getting bombarded with feminist content, they wouldn’t use TikTok as an entertainment platform.
Thank you for the reply. You are absolutely right that toxic masculinity is present in Australia so it is definitely going to be present on online platforms.
That is interesting that you surmise that feminism would never be able to be pushed on the platform. It can be frustrating and sad that it can be hard for the issue to be talked about. I wonder if in your research you found any platforms that it is successfully discussed?
Unfortunately I didn’t really come across anything in my research which shows an effective method of combatting this issue, however I can make some quick ideas:
– I believe Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are more likely to be able to combat this issue as you don’t see content recommended to you (for the most part), but rather content that is shared by followers, who may hold different values and beliefs
– Platforms such as Youtube and Snapchat News however share the same problem as TikTok as most content is recommended to users
Overall, I think social change ideas can begin on social media, but a lot of the work has to take place in person through rallies, protests, civil conversations, news panels, etc.
it would be interesting if a researcher could find an effective method for combating toxic masculinity online. It would be incredibly helpful for the cause.
Thank you for your thoughts. Even it is good to know that even if Tik Tok help feminism, there are platforms that support it. i follow quite a few page about feminism on Facebook so I know to stick to that site.
i agree, it takes more than social media to make changes, it needs to be throughout society at large.