Over the summer, #BlackTikTokStrike took hold of the popular platform. The hashtag has been viewed more than 6.5m times on the app and has since spread to trending Twitter and Instagram with users quickly joining the movement to help support Black users voice their concerns about prejudiced behavior.
The problem? Black creators say non-Black influencers copy their work and reap the reputational and success spurned from high views, but fail to give credit where it’s due.
Content creators Ziggi Tyler, 23, and Conscious Lee, 30 know about this frustrating issue first hand. Although both were on other social media platforms previously, once they’d joined the seemingly safe community of TikTok users, their respective accounts amassed thousands of followers and clips that boasted views in the millions in less than two years.
Much like Tyler and Lee, formerly unknown individuals quickly catapulted themselves in front of an audience of millions in a short amount of time, like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae Easterling. As the Hollywood Reporter pointed out, in 2019 D’Amelio and Rae rose to fame after dancing to K Camp’s “Lottery (Renegade),” and soon leveraged their popularity into other opportunities. But it wasn’t until months later that the The New York Times helped spotlight Jalaiah Harmon as the original creator of the dance and called attention to how the Black teen didn’t receive any credit. At all.
Unfortunately, Harmon is not alone in experiencing the unfair treatment on the app. Tyler and Lee call out that not only are its users reinforcing microaggressive practices, but the app itself is suppressive to Black users.
That’s why the two have decided to move their talent to other platforms and encourage other content creators to do the same. They sat down to discuss their experience with Essence, and what they’d like to see for the future of social media and its Black Users.
Have you always aspired to be a content creator?
Conscious Lee: I actually began in the college policy debate speaking space. I am an educator and firm believer that education and knowledge are power. Over the years, I’ve also realized that a social media presence offers me the opportunity to engage hundreds of thousands of people at once with short educational messages, so I decided to begin creating accounts and growing my following to further spread knowledge. My social media work has been particularly effective as my reach grows daily and my work is being shared by large public figures and media enterprises like This Is News, Forbes, Democracy Now, BET, and Vice.
Ziggi: I haven’t always aspired to be a content creator but I saw TikTok was up and coming and decided to join to take advantage of the momentum. I never “joined” the internet (gosh that makes me sound like I’m 86) to make money or be famous, but I really wanted to make people feel confident, empowered, and make some folks laugh whenever possible! I have been posting on my youtube channel for the past two years which I really enjoy and I am excited to be able to make more for my channel in the future!
Conscious Lee: I joined TikTok in July 2019 after seeing other people join platforms before the apps gain popularity and then once billions of people join, they already have a head start and their follower base grows exponentially. I did this with TikTok and joined before it was large and that really helped grow my follower base. I like being on short-form video apps like TikTok because I can continue to educate and motivate others in an easily accessible way to the general public.
Ziggi: I never wanted to make a persona on social media to make money, that just wasn’t my plan. However, I knew TikTok was growing and so I thought let me join and just mess around and make some funny videos that people can laugh at to build my numbers up, and then I really have a platform to talk about the things I am passionate about. And then I was stunted the moment I started to open my mouth up about black creators and I didn’t have a Plan B because I never thought I would be suppressed from important conversations like those.
What has your suppressive experience been like with TikTok?
Conscious Lee: I’ve noticed that when I talk about certain topics/subjects and when I use a specific tone, my videos are suppressed viewership-wise. I’ve had to think about my strategy and different ways that I can express these subjects without facing suppression and shadowbans. This has led me to move past just being a “TikToker” and focusing on other platforms as well where I can give exclusive content. For example, I have specific days I post exclusively on Fanbase or Youtube. Unfortunately, the Black TikTok strike showed black creators are not as valued on certain apps so we now need to think about intellectual property, content rights, and revenue splits.
Ziggi: I think one of the worst forms of suppression I’ve faced on TikTok was when I tried to join the TikTok Creator Fund and Marketplace. While writing my bio for the Marketplace, when I put two movements I identify with, Black Lives Matter & LGBTQ, TikTok flagged it as “inappropriate content or banned” and I was not allowed to use those words. However, I could type in White Supremacist, Neo-Nazi and other words that are criminal with no backlash from TikTok. This is blatant racism. I also noticed that my followers will often drop dramatically, and when I posted a TikTok asking people to check if they were still following me, they realized they weren’t but they never manually unfollowed me, so TikTok is suppressing my platform even further. Also, my videos have dropped in viewership once I began talking about topics around black creators, and there is no reason that my videos should be getting only a couple thousand views when I used to get 30K. That is why I am beginning to start moving to Fanbase as Fanbase is not an ad-based platform, rather it is focused on followers and monetization for everyone.
Describe what led you to being shadowbanned, (a practice in which social media platforms makes certain users’ content harder to find, resulting in lower engagement).
Conscious Lee: Similar to the above, I’ve noticed that my views drop dramatically whenever I mention certain topics such as racism. I have 1.6 million followers and sometimes my videos will struggle to get a couple thousand when I discuss those topics.
Ziggi: When I started shifting away from making only comedic content, I noticed my numbers starting to drop rapidly. If I spoke up about racism, I would lose about 1.1k followers per week for almost 3-4 weeks straight and my video views would plummet. If I have a platform of 420k, I shouldn’t be getting 1-2k views.
Why did you both turn to Fanbase to connect with your audiences?
Conscious Lee: I think for me overall, the core mission that Fanbase is built off of is so different from all of the other social media platforms that are out there. The all-Black leadership and ownership go a long way and you can really see that in the way they build the infrastructure of the platform. They make sure the creators who don’t get paid at TikTok or wherever are getting paid here. I came to Fanbase because I felt like their platform actually cares about the work that I do and shows the way that I’m valued through compensation.
Ziggi: For me, the most important thing that brought me to Fanbase was the fact that it was Black-owned. It is something that people underestimate but has so much power. We need people who look like us and understand where we come from to be at the highest levels of leadership within these companies. To have that kind of connection with the top decision-makers at a social media platform is critical because they function and build in a way that prioritizes issues people of color face that are often ignored.