TikTok: Is The Platform Racist?

As the world looks forward to seeing the long-term impacts of COVID-19, many have found comfort in the popular platform TikTok. But an artificial intelligence researcher, Marc Faddoul, shows that the platform can reinforce racial prejudice.

TikTok was very popular with Generation Z, but its popularity has increased since confinement, with many people around the world spending time recreating popular dances and making the buzz. TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese Internet company ByteDance, started as Musical.ly and allowed users to sync with their favorite songs. TikTok has become a fun way to unite people, but an artificial intelligence researcher, Marc Faddoul, shows that there can be a glitch in the system and that the platform can reinforce racial prejudice.

In a series of tweets, Marc Faddoul said that he had experimented on his own and discovered that TikTok recommended accounts based on those he was already following. This is not unusual, as this is how social media algorithms work. What was interesting for Marc Faddoul was that the physical characteristics of a person's profile photo were imitated in TikTok's recommendations. For example, if he followed a white woman with blond hair, a series of TikTok users with the same appearance would be added to his recommendations.

If, on the contrary, Marc Faddoul followed an Asian man, in the same way, other accounts of Asian men would appear in his recommendations. A TikTok spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that this phenomenon is known as collaborative filtering. The problem with collaborative filtering, said Marc Faddoul, is that it "can also reproduce any prejudice in people's behavior." If the majority of popular creators on TikTok are white, for example, this can prevent color creators with fewer followers from being seen and recommended as often on the platform.

Visibility is important for creators and can translate into money and opportunity. If people of color receive less visibility than their white counterparts, this could lead to a decrease in these opportunities. Teenager Jalaiah Harmon noticed this when she was not originally credited for the dance she started, called the "Renegade dance". Instead, TikTok’s most popular user, Charli D’Amelio, has been credited as being behind the Renegade Dance. Since the biggest users of the platform are White, it is very likely that the TikTok algorithm will give more visibility to white creators while limiting the visibility and range of color creators.

 In addition to the racial bias that can be perpetuated by the platform algorithm, several TikTok users criticize the platform for the unfair treatment of color creators. A quick read on Twitter of the search terms "TikTok" and "racism" reveals a multitude of user tweets sharing opinions and videos on the differences in treatment between white and non-white users.

Tiahra Nelson, who calls herself tiahranelson on TikTok, shared her experiences as a black designer on the platform. Tiahra Nelson says that “the main problem is that there is an inconsistency with the community guidelines… I encountered complications when two of my videos were removed because they“ violated community guidelines ” .

One of the videos was about how I personally feel about non-African Americans who have racist views. The sound I used for this video was a man who kept saying "what's wrong with you". The other video that was removed was a video of me reading memes from Twitter. These were comical memes that the black community could identify with because a large number [of black people] lived through the listed circumstances.

It’s always fun to make these videos because I can identify with them, and others can too. When I came across the video of a girl who disparaged the African American community, I didn't understand why she continued to appear on the "For you" page, because according to TikTok's instructions, the video should have been withdrawn ”.

How can TikTok level the playing field and create more equity on the platform? The first step is to tackle the integrated racial bias that algorithms tend to have. A 2019 New York Times article reports that updating algorithmic software on computers can provide a solution to address algorithmic biases. In this article, Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of behavioral and computer science at the University of Chicago, says, "We need to make sure that all of the data necessary for the algorithm, including the data used to test and build it, is carefully stored ”. In addition to modifying the platform algorithm, it is essential to ensure that all users are treated fairly. Any video that violates TikTok community guidelines should be removed, without exception.

Failure to treat users fairly may affect the longevity of the platform; users who feel they are not being treated fairly can migrate to other social platforms. Tiahra Nelson shares: "TikTok is a great platform to illuminate our creativity and share it with others, however, some changes can be made to maintain equality and fairness. I appreciate that TikTok abides by community guidelines because it minimizes the chaos that can occur and maintains order. TikTok needs to improve its consistency regarding what they consider to be a “violation of their guidelines”.

Once the consistency is established, there will be no more problems justifying the removal of the videos, and creators, whatever their origins, will be able to use the platform to their advantage. "
Next Post »