A person opening up TikTok on their phone.

TikTok and its Influence on Feminism and Society

TikTok is now one of the leading mediums in the social media landscape. Its usage skyrocketed by 75% in 2020, rising to the top of the App Store globally. Short-form content is truly taking over. 

Bolstering short-form content even further, in 2020, YouTube released YouTube Shorts, an extension of their video-sharing service. 

All this new short-form content is sure to have an impact on how we communicate and learn about the world. The majority (38.9%) of TikTok users are aged 18-24, meaning that its videos are shaping the views of the new generation. 

But is this a good or bad thing? 

Why TikTok has become so popular 

The increased use of TikTok and other short-form content has been the subject of a lot of research, and there are worries about the promotion of polarizing topics. 

The research indicates that ‘self-expression, informativeness, a sense of belonging, and trendiness in TikTok significantly and positively influence TikTok users’ satisfaction’. 

Another study explains that the goal of TikTok is ‘to thrill and to serve a fast-paced target demographic, who are mostly younger people that use this platform to portray their talents through videos’. 

How does it work? 

TikTok works by presenting viewers with user-generated content as they scroll. The app uses the following information to recommend videos using its algorithm: 

(1) User interactions: such as the videos the user likes or shares, accounts he/she follows, comments he/she posts, and content he/she creates. 

(2) Video information: this includes details like captions, sounds, and hashtags. 

(3) Device and account settings, including the user’s language preference, country setting, and device type. Each of these factors is individually weighted by TikTok’s “For You” recommendation system, which means each “For You” page will be unique to a user and their level of interest. 

As noted by the authors of a study published in MDPI Journalism and the Media. 

What is an algorithm? 

The Oxford Reference explains that an algorithm is ‘a documented series of steps which leads to the transformation of some data’. In essence, a set of instructions (aka the algorithm) tells TikTok what to do at all times. 

The program follows these instructions very strictly and this can lead to issues when it comes to social issues and mental wellbeing. 

How social media can be used to spread hate 

Algorithms are critical to the success of sites and apps. They need to work to provide suggestions to the user based on their preferred content. 

However, the results are a mixed bag. The authors went on to explain that ‘the platform’s organic potential seems to both challenge and reinforce dominant values through the ambivalences that the concept of popular misogyny wants to capture’. 

In short, the research found that misogyny thrives on uncertainty. Many people who are in the middle and undecided about this issue are being shown divisive content, with the aim of making them pick a side. 

Mapping feminist politics on TikTok 

One study tracked how both feminism and antifeminism have been evolving online. 

Specifically, the authors looked at the Portuguese hashtags #feminismo and #antifeminismo. They note that ‘over half of the [..] videos […] were reaffirming gender stereotypes’ and that ‘feminists are represented as hysterical and as man-hating women’. 

In addition, the research suggests that many anti-feminist videos use ‘discredit and irony’ to make their point.  

The way forward 

The authors conclude that content in English must be analyzed as well. There’s so much more content on TikTok in English than in Portuguese. Although reviewing the hashtags #feminismo and #antifeminismo is a good start, it’s only scratching the surface of this issue. 

Social issues can only be resolved once we understand them. Open access research is critical to this journey. By studying, analyzing, and sharing these findings openly online, we can raise awareness of these issues and identify effective ways respond to them. 

You’re just a few clicks away from the latest insights and innovations. See all of our open access research on the MDPI website.