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TikTok’s Increasing Role in Activism – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

How TikTok Has Had a Major Role in Recent Activism

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

It is taking over again, but for good.

While TikTok is often in the news for a lawsuit or study about its addictive properties, the app started off as a dancing and lip-syncing app, but has been increasingly used for activism. Even though the idea of using social media to bring about social or political change isn’t new, creators are using the platform to new levels. 

It all started in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter movement when creators changed profile pictures, content and hashtags to spread awareness. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag currently has over 37 billion views, and some of the largest creators, such as Charli D’Amelio, posted content in support of the movement. These small gestures boosted the movement, but in recent years, content creators have gotten creative with their means of activism. 

While the Black Lives Matter was widespread on the app, the first major activism on TikTok was during the Ukraine war. The news showed updates of what was going on in the war, but opening TikTok showed a different side of it. Ukrainian TikTok creators would post videos of their daily lives during the war, with a popular one showing a family living in an underground bunker. Multiple videos of interactions between civilians and soldiers circulated on TikTok at a rate faster than news channels could keep up with. It was deemed “the world’s first TikTok war” because of how involved onlookers were. The new way of updating the world of day-to-day coverage of what is happening directly in the homes of people affected by war caused onlookers to be more involved in activism by fundraising and calling representatives. 

“I think sometimes it [activism on TikTok] is good but it also has the potential to spread false information so it’s both [good and bad],” senior Katherine Gorgov said. “Yes [this way of raising money will be kept], because everyone uses social media.”

Similar methods of TikTok educating people of the Israel-Hamas war have been common on the majority of users’ for you pages. Tiktok creators have made filters, usually sporting a watermelon or the Israel flag, to provide money to the Palestinian people in Gaza or to Israel lobbyists. In order to avoid backlash, users that are raising money for Palestine use a watermelon. The symbolism behind the watermelon stems back to the Six-Day War in 1967, after Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza, and annexed East Jerusalem. During the war, displaying the flag of Palestine was prohibited, so the watermelon was used in its place due to its shared colors. Popular fundraising filters include ones that mimic known filters such as using a shopping cart to collect falling watermelon and watermelon seeds. These filters are meant to be a discrete way to show support for Palestinans while educating people about the atrocities that Hamas is causing. According to TIME, the money from the watermelon filters goes to charities bringing aid to the people in Gaza. 

“I think it is good to promote it [activism] on social media just to see what is actually happening,” junior Collins Barton. “I think as long as it is correct information and it is from a trustworthy source, like a news outlet, it is good. I would think it would stay around for a long time, I think it is good to spread information as long as it is correct and promoting is fine for the long run.”

Similarly to support Palestine, creators have made songs and filters in support of Congo. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, on a global basis, the leading use of cobalt is in rechargeable battery electrodes. Congo has more cobalt reserves than every other nation combined, so their role in providing cobalt in a technology filled world is crucial. However, the way that the cobalt is being mined by the Congolese people has been classified as modern-day slavery. While there is no chattel slavery, people are being exploited in the mines by the use of armed forces and lack of other job options. The work of a cobalt miner is dangerous as the chemical is lethal to breathe and touch. In order to get coverage of what is happening in Congo, a man lit himself on fire while holding a sign that read “Stop the genocide in Congo.” This sparked outrage online, with creators switching their usual content to news to spread awareness. TikTok users have even resorted to quitting vaping as about 150 million vapes are thrown away each year, bringing billions of dollars worth of iron, copper and cobalt with them. These small ways to protest what is happening across the globe can have a huge impact on the mining industry, which has been fueled through TikTok videos educating and inspiring people. 

The push from Congress to ban TikTok had died down during the summer, but has increased now that there has been an increase of activism. Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher, who leads a House committee devoted to challenging China’s governing Communist Party, wrote in an essay for the Free Press blog about how the app is misleading the American youth.

“In the worst-case scenario, TikTok is perhaps the largest scale malign influence operation ever conducted,” Gallagher said.

Public data on the hashtags that are used in posts concerning these world issues, specifically the Israel-Hamas war, showed that Instagram and Facebook have millions of hashtag uses compared to TikTok. While TikTok has had an impact on spreading activism, it isn’t the only operative. Misinformation is present on all platforms which fuels a lot of the incentive to ban the app. For example, Justin Bieber, who has around 300 million followers on Instagram, reposted an image with the phrase “Praying For Israel” with a picture of the destruction in Gaza. With a platform that big, spreading misinformation can cause even more tension in an already unsteady time. 

The mix of entertainment and information has opened a gateway for activism to the younger generation. From fun filters to informative “get ready with me” videos, people are finding new ways to spread important knowledge.


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Andy Poll

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