What’s Next for Black TikTokers

No refuge for the Black content creator

Key Takeaways

  • Black TikTokers struggle to make sense of the potential US ban while balancing their social media brands. 
  • Instagram’s Reels copycat comes under fire as an attempt to monopolize the social media industry. 
  • TikTok’s algorithm faces accusations of suppression of Black content and creators deemed distasteful to the mainstream market.
Instagram Reels in the Instagram app

Black TikTok creators are reimagining life on the social media platform after the Trump administration cemented calls to ban the app amid security concerns regarding its potential connection to the Chinese government.

Described as tastemakers on the app, Black creatives are credited with starting many of the platform’s most enduring social trends, from dance crazes like the “Renegade” to popular sounds involving rapstress Nicki Minaj’s video commentary. 

On Aug. 6, President Trump issued an Executive Order that will prohibit the popular social media app from operating in the United States by Sept. 15 if Chinese executives fail to make a deal with American buyers. The order targets TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance Ltd., with sanctions banning “any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd.” 

This announcement came a week after President Trump’s initial threat of a ban caused a ruckus that reverberated across social media platforms.

“I didn’t understand, at first, why this would be happening,” TikTok creator Loren Montgomery told Lifewire over the phone. “To hear that it was going away in the midst of me getting bigger and bigger in my brand...I was upset.”

Better known by her username AuntieLoren, Montgomery made a name for herself on the app via her unique blend of rhythmic R&B tunes and comfort cuisine. Garnering an audience of over 320,000 followers, she has secured brand deals with Kroger and Home Shopping Network—illustrating the success some have found on the relatively young social media network. 

The Reel Deal

With the platform’s looming suspension, these creators are forced to rethink their social media presence and how to convert TikTok renown into success on other platforms. After President Trump’s declaration, Instagram unleashed its Reels vertical that bears an uncannily similar look and feel to the Chinese app. Unveiled with all the business finesse the industry has come to expect from Facebook, Reels may be a facsimile, and creators like Montgomery say it pales in comparison to the original.

“I ramped up efforts to convert my followers over to my Instagram page after the announcement of the TikTok ban,” she said. “I don’t really deal with Reels that much. I’m trying to get adjusted to it in case TikTok does go away, but it feels like something that was rushed only as a substitute in case the ban ends up being successful—it just feels rushed.”

How Reels looks in Instagram

Reels is more than simply an attempt at copying the successful business model of TikTok, according to 29-year-old educator and politico George Lee. He worries that Facebook, the owner of Instagram, constantly tries to kill up-and-coming apps in an effort to monopolize the industry. He further explains the danger in the monopolization of social media, which may lead to an era where a single company exercises full control over what can and cannot be posted online.

“I just want to hear about the black rhythm, I don’t want to hear about the black blues.”

TikTok creators have long lobbied critiques against the app’s treatment of Black talent and Lee is among the loudest critics. Amassing over 750,000 followers across two profiles on the app, ConsciousLee and ConsciousLeeSpeaks, he has carved out a niche on TikTok as a pro-Black social justice advocate who describes his brand of engaging cultural commentary as edutainment—and he pulls no punches against the tech conglomerate.

“One of the tradeoffs with TikTok giving you so much exposure and accessibility to different markets and different parts of the world is that they have very arbitrary standards for policing their guidelines. I’ve been shadowbanned and suspended more on this app, over the past year, than I have on all other platforms combined.” Lee said.

Content Suppression

Shadowbanning is a tool used by social media platforms to curtail the community’s access to a certain creator through suppression of content without an outright ban or suspension of users.

It’s not just Lee, either. In the wake of the George Floyd protests and mass Black Lives Matter movement earlier this summer, Black creators took to Twitter and other platforms to express concerns that TikTok was repressing the scope of popular hashtags proliferating on the app, namely #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd. Lee thinks it is a challenging, albeit explicable, business move.

“If I am John Doe in the middle of Idaho, I don’t care about Black Lives Matter, I just want to see somebody dance. I just want to hear about the black rhythm, I don’t want to hear about the black blues,” Lee said. “So, the suppression of black creators is what happens when you’re trying to break into mainstream markets as an emerging platform.”

The creativity and unique perspectives of these creatives far outshine any singular social media platform. And they know it. President Trump’s executive order on the surface may seem like a threat to their creative vision, but they see it as simply another blip in the arch of being a Black creative in a social media environment that is not always conducive to their success. 

“I’m not threatened by it. I’m amused by it...social media is plentiful,” Lee said. “it’s almost like a continuum—there will always be another platform.”

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