Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
TikTok has become a global hub for creative expression and diverse conversations. No doubt, many of us doom scroll through, catch up on our “For You” page and look to see what the rest of the world has to offer. However, recent concerns about shadow banning have made rounds again, raising questions about the potential impact on free speech, especially within American ethnic minority communities.
Shadow banning is a controversial practice where a user’s content is hidden from TikTok’s wider audience without notifying the user. This happens on other platforms, such as X, formerly known as Twitter, as well. Platforms argue that shadow banning is intended to combat spam, harassment or other inappropriate content, but critics argue that it is being used as a tool to silence certain voices or topics.
Shadow banning last occurred on a more widely known basis when the war in Israel began. Pro-Palestinian accounts were finding themselves shadow banned and suddenly not having their usual amount of interactions with their usual audience. Shadow banning is a practice that occurs under our noses and perhaps some of us have been products of this form of censorship.
For ethnic communities on TikTok specifically, the ability to engage in open and uninhibited conversations is essential for fostering cultural exchange, sharing experiences and building a sense of solidarity. Users who are shadow banned may find that their contect is reaching a significantly smaller audience, limiting the potential for connection and discussion within their own circles or “sections” of TikTok.
Recently, the Navajo Nation took to TikTok to address the United States. This, along with countless other important messages, have become a memory and exist only in the memory of those who saw the original post. The post, which was addressing “Phase 10” was meant to be shared with all of “Native-Tok,” but due to factors beyond the control of the Navajo Nation account, the post was removed and the account shadow banned.
This, as well as other cases of shadow banning leads to censorship of cultural narratives and discussions within minority communities. It can hinder the organic flow of conversation on topics such as heritage, traditions and shared experiences. This limits the ability for minority individuals and groups to express themselves freely.
TikTok, as well as other platforms, are used for activism and advocacy, addressing social issues relevant to different communities. Shadow banning suppresses the reach of content, undermining the potential for collective action and hindering the visibility of important causes. Communities use TikTok to celebrate and preserve languages. This form of censorship impedes on the dissemination of linguistic content which affects language revitalization efforts and limits the exchange of ideas.
Social media is used to build support networks and share resources. If these networks become fragmented and communities find it hard to find and support one another, the downfall of minority cultures will begin. Social media platforms in general should strive for greater transparency in their content moderation policy. Clearer communication about what the rules and regulations are can help users to understand what content is acceptable and can reduce the likelihood of shadow banning. Of course, there are also ways to get around the algorithms by using text speech or different spoken words. Clearer communication may also aid in helping people navigate around being shadow banned.
TikTok and other social media platforms remain vibrant spaces for cultural expression and community building. The potential impact of shadow banning on these conversations cannot be overlooked. It is crucial for social media platforms to reevaluate their moderation strategies to foster an environment that encourages diverse voices and allows for minority groups to communicate freely without fear of censorship. Only through a commitment to transparency and inclusivity can these platforms truly serve as spaces for authentic cultural exchange and dialogue.