The pitfalls of TikTok activism

What are you really accomplishing?


Creed Bauman, The Horizon

Congrats, you’re an activist!

Morgan Clarke, Guest Writer

Internet activism boomed during the summer of 2020, much of which was performative. A lot of hashtags went around and a lot of black squares were posted on Instagram, but very little action was taken. Fast forward to 2022, and my TikTok “For You” page is saturated with activism — partly because I have a genuine interest in activism, and partly because TikTok has become an outlet for voices that fail to be heard by the greater portion of society. Unfortunately, the accessibility to be seen and heard opens up many doors that allow for important issues to be taken advantage of for greater personal influence, regardless of whether it’s good or bad.

Honestly, I have been influenced by the phenomenon of Internet activism. In the past two years, my interest in social issues has increased exponentially. In 2020, the revolt against the injustice Black people face in America came to a climax of a proportion this country had not seen since the Washington March of 1963. I was deeply pained. I was pained that my Black brothers and sisters were losing their lives and no real change was happening. I was hurt that people were using the pain of my community to gain attention on the Internet. 

My faith in our justice system disappeared. More importantly, I lost hope in the possibility of a real, genuine and comprehensive understanding of the injustice many people face in this country. One would think that the uproar in 2020 against injustice would generate more hope, but time has shown that a lot of the Internet activism that took place then was not substantial enough to create real change. 

I see this frequently reflected on TikTok. In the past two years, one component of the Black Lives Matter movement involved acknowledging Black-owned businesses and creators. Often, I notice a phenomenon of non-Black TikTok creators placing “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) in the bio sections of their profiles or using the BLM logo as their profile pictures. This is often followed by no action to contribute to the movement, action that might include petitioning, marching, donating or educating themselves or others. 

Black TikTok creators frequently get their work stolen from them or are miscredited by the same creators who claim to be allies of the Black community. This is frustrating because it showcases a performative form of fake activism. It illustrates a lack of genuine understanding about how the system fails Black people and other POC. By consciously benefitting from the subordination of the marginalized, these individuals contradict the allyship implied by promoting a movement that uplifts the Black community.

The disingenuous nature of TikTok activism has also been highlighted in the recent Black History Month meetup event that TikTok put together to uplift Black creators and voices. This event was hosted by Nicki Minaj as a celebratory occasion for Black History Month.

The invites were decided by the TikTok platform but, unfortunately, a majority of the invites were given to non-Black creators. In her “In the Know” interview, Niccoya Thomas, a Black TikTok creator in attendance, shared that this event was originally made to uplift Black people and Black history was overtaken with non-Black creators leading discussions that had nothing to do with Black historical issues.

This event is disappointing because it displays how social media is truly an incompetent place to endorse important conversations about important issues in a dignifying way. Here, we see a myriad of non-Black creators using an outlet, which was supposed to be used to give Black voices a space to discuss Black History and creation, to meet a popular celebrity. The TikTok platform used Black History Month to make itself look good and to please its creators and audience.

This situation shows how TikTok and other social media platforms are desensitized to important issues. Bringing awareness to social issues on the platforms are most often used to bring benefit for individuals who are not affected by the issues being promoted. Essentially, activism has turned into a sort of bait for views, promotion and influence without any real care for the actual problems many communities face.

I believe social media has, time and time again, missed a very good opportunity to make a difference in our world. Social media connects and gives regular people a voice. However, the system and machine of greed that TikTok and other social media are built upon do not often allow for genuine engagement with the important issues that oppressed groups face in society.

It is clear that the Internet and social media can be a good place to spread awareness of important issues. Although we have failed to use social media as a productive resource for activism, it’s not too late to start! It is crucial that Internet activism is rooted first and foremost in the cause. Social media can become a much better tool for activism as a place to share educational information about movements and causes.

If we stray away from the simple post of a black square or a hashtag and instead put in the extra effort to educate ourselves and educate others, we can utilize social media to make real change. I encourage everyone to educate themselves and use the platforms they have to truly educate others. Real change can begin when we view activism as education and action rather than promotion and gratification.


Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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