TikTok Activism: The Adaptive Nature of Resistance Media
The 21st century struggle exists both in the public sphere, and the online sphere. The both are so intricately connected that it feels one cannot exist without the other. Protest guides, twitter threads, explainer posters, exposing videos seem to be the new mobilisation, and educating techniques in most forms of activism, whether it is mobilisation for Aurat March, or pioneering a movement like TimesUp.
At the forefront of this shift have been platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and even Facebook to an extent. Instagram has been great for disseminating information in a visual, and easy-to-understand way, with stories and bios carrying links to donation centers, and posters explaining complex concepts with real-life examples. Twitter works the same way with people posting videos of outraging events, tagging officials, and pioneering threads explaining events and ideas.
But one platform has been overlooked in the mainstream: TikTok.
TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service that evolved out of platforms like Dubsmash, Lyrical.ly, and Vine. It’s catchphrase “Make your day” adequately explains the platform. Anyone can make a short video with or without sound/text and post it to their heart’s content. It is mainly known for its popular dances, and sometimes cringey, and comedic content.
But TikTok creators have earned a place in the realm of social media activism.
TikTok’s large role in the Black Lives Matter movement is proof of this. Videos with #BlackLivesMatter gained over 43 million views. People were utilising the app’s music features by accompanying protest videos with Childish Gambino’s “This is America” - a resistance piece on racial tensions in America. With the platform, BLM has been able to disseminate information, and mobilise people for their protests, putting up TikToks of where protests will take place.
There has also been a degree of whistleblowing on the platform. Most notably, Claudia Conway, the daughter of former counsellor to Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway, broke news of her mother's COVID-19 positive test through a TikTok days before the media did. She also spoke about how the White House was lying about Trump's health, and that it actually was worsening.
But what happens when criticism is levelled against those at the top?
It is important to note that TikTok is owned by China - a country with the highest human rights abuses, a heavy degree of censorship, and state control. What happens when people speak out against this?
Exactly what you would expect: censorship. China has continuously censored TikToks that talk of the South China Sea conflict, the Hong Kong protests and most importantly the Uyghur Muslims.
However, the resistance lives on, and finds ways to adapt. Creators have made an interesting strategy to overcome this. They know TikTok censors only view videos up to a certain time mark. Until that time mark, they disguise their video as something pleasant like a dance or a makeup tutorial, and when it passes that time mark they start talking of Uyghur Muslims, or put up text about these issues.
You can watch another here, and here.
These very clever tactics have spread beyond one creator and to multiple, showing how resistance media is constantly adapting to overcome the hurdles it faces with new mediums.
This extends to Pakistan as well. While many would think Pakistani TikTok is “cringe-worthy”, it has some merit, particularly in terms of social mobility, and activism.
TikTok in Pakistan acts as a space for people to express themselves. Creators like Naseer Baloch have around 6 million followers, something that could not be possible on a platform like Instagram or Facebook for someone from a rural background. But TikToks flourishes with such creators. A lot of creators think of it as a safe space to showcase their sexuality as well by breaking traditional gender norms. Men often engage in dances considered to be feminine, and even do makeup tutorials.
One of Naseer's famous Tiktoks.
Not just this many use it to highlight issues such as the motorway rape case, or even Pashtun separatism. People showcase their cultures, and raise their voices through these videos. Another important creator here is Hussain Zaidi, a Pakistani Swarthmore College student who makes elaborate, and flashy TikToks of himself dancing pleasantly to popular music while information about the prosecution of minorities, such as Shias, Ahmedis, etc., pops up on the screen. This acts as a technique to capture today’s youth, and disseminate information in a consumable and attractive way. You can find a collection of his TikToks on his Instagram.
The impact that TikTok has is immeasurable by now, considering a huge amount of creators are active on the platform. But it is interesting to see how resistance media exists, and flourishes there, inspiring conversations in the youth about the atrocities within the world, and exposing oppressive regimes.