📹 tiktok on reconciliation
We’re witnessing a welcome resurgence of Indigenous culture in Canada, and while the credit for this resurgence goes to the diverse and growing cohort of Indigenous artists and creators, the TikTok platform also deserves kudos. The video platform is empowering and elevating Indigenous culture in a manner that is arguably above and beyond any efforts made by our public broadcaster - and, it’s more democratic.
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This begs the question, is TikTok, a foreign media company, doing more to foster Indigenous reconciliation than the CBC? If so, how, and why?
TikTok’s meteoric success derives from two perceived differences the platform offers compared to others: an algorithm with different priorities, and consequently, greater opportunity for creators to find success.
Both of these attributes are extensions of the data TikTok collects and processes to provide the content and services available on the platform.
A major advantage TikTok has is the potentially rich and deep data collected as a result of the primary cultural form of the short and repeating video. While the platform allows increasingly longer videos, the rapid delivery of short, dense content allows for rapid data collection and responsive algorithmically curated content.
This not only creates a responsive experience for users, but also for creators, who can get rapid and responsive feedback on their content, whether views, likes, comments, stitches, or shares, TikTok makes it easy for creators to connect with their audience. Similarly for content creators new to the platform, it increases the opportunity for them to reach an audience and build a following.
TikTok also provides creators with analytics and tools to help them build a successful audience if not career.
This distinguishes TikTok from their competitors, as simply put, they not only generate more data, but share more data directly with the content creator in the form of analytics.
This lends itself to a culture of “optimization”, that combines iterative cultural practices with rapid feedback that encourages users and creators to improve their experience.
The concept of “algorithmic folklore” describes the strategies TikTok users employ to crack the algorithmic black box and deduce what will deliver viral success. Creators share this knowledge as part of their content, both as a means of educating others, but also as proof of their own success. Also described as “algorithmic gossip” these are examples of peer-to- peer research where creators collaborate on cracking the code. In doing so they also foster a kind of group consciousness.
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Although that group identity is not just formed by attempting to reverse engineer the algorithm, but also through its use. Due to their volume and repetition, TikTok’s feedback loops also foster the creation of groups and subcultures. SubToks, or sub groups that form on TikTok not only foster group awareness, but create data frameworks that help new users find them. Similarly creators optimize their use of the algorithm in order to reach these groups, as popularity in a group can boost popularity on the platform as a whole.
A great example of these kinds of groups are those forming around North American Indigenous creators on TikTok. Here in Canada, Indigenous creators had the opportunity to participate in an accelerator program that was funded by TikTok and organized/hosted by the National Screen Institute.
However the success of Indigenous creators on TikTok has less to do with the company’s support, and more to do with the popularity of the content itself. Provided with the opportunity - and an algorithm that does not discriminate against their content - Indigenous creators have found success largely because there are less barriers to it.
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Contrast this with a public broadcaster that operates on a model of scarcity. Limited air time, limited resources, and as a result, limited content, and limited access. While the CBC may value coverage of Indigenous issues, and the sharing of Indigenous stories, they don’t employ many Indigenous people despite being committed to hiring more. On the CBC gem platform, there is a National Indigenous Month Collection that honours the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Perhaps the CBC could purchase more content from Indigenous creators to air on their networks.
TikTok on the other hand operates on a model of abundance. Lots of content, created by lots of users, with minimal restrictions on what they can share. This not only provides Indigenous creators with the opportunity to share their culture, but more importantly the opportunity to find an audience.
As a result of how TikTok’s algorithm works, that audience is initially other Indigenous creators, who share similar interests. However mutual support means that the content is amplified to larger audiences, within Canada, and around the world.
In this context, TikTok is promoting Indigenous creators and culture at a scale far beyond anything the CBC has ever done, and with far greater impact. They largely accomplish this by allowing creators to speak for themselves and connect with audiences directly - in contrast with a public broadcaster that must control all content that is associated with their networks and brand.
Which leaves the question of why. Why is TikTok doing more for reconciliation than the CBC? Critical distance perhaps? Less baggage? Motivation to reshape the media landscape? Or maybe it’s just the right thing to do? What role does this play in their government relations work in Canada?
To continue to support the arts sector’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to address historic inequities in funding levels for Indigenous and racialized arts training organizations, Budget 2022 proposes to provide $22.5 million over five years starting in 2022-23, and $5 million ongoing, to Canadian Heritage for the Canada Arts Training Fund.
The Budget also mentions a $5 million investment next year (in 2023-24) to launch a new Changing Narratives Fund to break down systemic barriers in the media and cultural sectors and help racialized and religious minority journalists, creators, and organizations have their experiences and perspectives better represented. To what extent is our national broadcaster as a sort of ‘gatekeeper’ a “barrier”?
TikTok *also* investing in Indigenous Creators through their Accelerator.