Ok people, I caved in and went on TikTok. Why? Well, first of all because I wanted to corrupt the youth and bring them to the dark side. Secondly, because I was genuinely interested in how the platform dealt with and moderated pole dancing content. Is it different from Instagram? Does it like butts? Read on to find out my first, wild months on TikTok.
Why I’m Experimenting With TikTok
As you all know because I have no chill about it, Instagram likes censoring women, the LGBTQIA+, sex positive, body positive and sex work community, people of colour, athletes, artists, educators, so on and so forth. This, the shadowban, profiles getting deleted, posts being taken down, engagement dropping etc. has pissed a lot of people off – with so many users writing they’ll eventually get off the platform out of frustration.
Here comes TikTok.
The company isn’t owned by Zuck for a change, but by Zhang Yiming, a Chinese 35-year-old software engineer who founded the app’s parent company. He now has a net worth of $16.2 billion according to Forbes, and he is the 13th-wealthiest person in China at the time of writing. Yet, as reported by Business Insider, TikTok’s growing influence in the US has raised questions from US regulators both about its power and its content moderation.
So why is your good old pole dancing academic experimenting with TikTok? Well, in January, I heard a lot of users – pole dancers and lifestyle bloggers – say they grew really fast on TikTok. And since you don’t need to have your ass out all the time like me to notice that Instagram growth is a unicorn for many people – it’s a myth – I thought I’d give it a shot, also to stop using monopoly-owned platforms. So am I too old for it? Is it gonna be weird? Read on to find out.
My First Wild Month on TikTok
I set up my profile in late January 2020. The first thing I noticed is that TikTok’s format does my head in. All of those gif-like, short videos with really loud music and shitloads of dance challenges initially gave me a huge headache (I guess this is where you say I am, indeed, old). I slowly got accustomed to it, although I don’t open it too often… but there are some gems there that make me giggle a lot.
When it comes to yours truly, initially no one really cared about me on TikTok. In the first few weeks, I amassed a couple of tens of followers by posting my usual IG shiz. Pole videos, mainly. I wasn’t banned for them, although they were sometimes muted (rather than deleted, which is more helpful when you’ve spent a while uploading them) for copyright reasons.
Then I posted a short videos of me doing a kip from one of bosswoman Veronica’s classes, and that video got thousands of views. It still does – it’s in the hundreds of thousands, which is hella weird.
Within a week, that video got me close to 1,000 followers. Boy, that was fast! It seems a lot easier to gain followers through hashtags on TikTok, which leads me to think things like the hashtag shadowban Instagram has implemented hasn’t yet reached TikTok – or if it has, as this article suggests – it hasn’t hit pole dancers. This results in a bigger reach, in more engagement and in more chances to get more followers. I’m currently at over 3,000 followers after doing two viral videos – that are on my Instagram too, but with less views.
Interestingly though, my TikTok growth seems to be feeding into my IG growth, with some people finding me on both platforms because TikTok allows you to link your profile to your IG and YouTube.
Growing your reach may be what you want on a social network, but it’s very overwhelming to cope with a platform after you do a viral, and when you aren’t shadowbanned like on Instagram. People follow you non-stop and you get a lot of comments, not all of them nice.
Users on TikTok seem to have a lot of problems with my outfits. Comments like “this is so nice why u have to be naked like dat,” “wrong app mate,” or grossed out emojis, or “How am I 10 and seeing this????” aren’t unlikely. While I appreciate that my aesthetic is, indeed, quite naked, the reactions here are completely different from Instagram. This could either be due to the fact that IG has become a bit of an echo chamber for my pole, body and sex-positive bubble, or that by being younger, some TikTok users aren’t yet as liberated as your butt-naked activist over here.
It could also be, of course, that due to TikTok’s apparently less restrictive attitude towards social media reach, more people find your profile and you grow faster – and with growth come trolls.
Oh, and in case you were wondering. Just like on Twitter and Instagram, getting that “blue tick” verification isn’t any easier on TikTok. I couldn’t find any info on that on the platform, but very conspiracy-focused, algorithm-lore based blogs say to “create relevant content” to get verified. THANK YOU SO MUCH, that really helps.
TikTok’s Community Guidelines vs. Instagram’s Community Guidelines
So how does TikTok deal with nudity and pole dance content? What’s its moderation style?
My experience at the moment is that any crotch shot – covered, of course – gets taken down, even if it’s during a dance or an exercise. Two of my videos have been taken down, one where I was doing an upside down move and one where I was dancing to a choreography I made (to Pussycat Dolls’ React if you wanna know).
The video that was taken down – which can be seen below from my Instagram – received a few nasty comments before it disappeared, so I am guessing it was taken down for over-reporting.
View this post on Instagram
Massive pole win! Got my iguana in heels 😍 still work to do but I’m so happy. Grips where my neck and feet are involved generally terrify me but now I need to teach this shiz so there’s no room for fear – and now I’m brave enough to try them by myself at least. Got a bit excited so filth at the end lol ✖️✖️✖️
I have since appealed, but about a month later, I still haven’t heard anything about that particular video.
Is there any difference between Instagram and TikTok community guidelines when it comes to nudity? Well, TikTok seems to allow for a teeny bit more creativity, but the juice is the same. And they also hate female nipples.
The TikTok guidelines say:
We do not allow sexually explicit or gratifying content on TikTok, including animated content of this nature. Sexualized content carries many risks, such as triggering legal penalties in some jurisdictions and causing harm to our users through sharing non-consensual imagery (for example, revenge porn). Also, overtly sexual content can be offensive within certain cultures. We do allow exceptions around nudity and sexually explicit content for educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic purposes. For example, content discussing or showing mastectomy scars is allowed.
Sexual exploitation is any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust for sexual purposes, including but not limited to profiting monetarily, socially, or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.
Do not post :
-Content that depicts, commits, or incites non-consensual sexual acts
-Content that commits, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation or sexual objectification
Pornography and nudity involving adults
Pornography explicitly depicts sexual organs and/or activities for the purpose of sexual gratification.
Do not post :
Content that depicts sexual activities such as penetration, non-penetrative sex, or oral sex:
-Content that shows human genitalia, female nipples, or buttocksTikTok community guidelines [this is a selection, there is more on the link]
-Content that depicts sexual arousal
-Content that depicts a sexual fetish
Sexualisation of minors is also banned on TikTok: users can’t post “content that depicts erotic dances involving minors” and “content that contains sexual or erotic language involving minors”.
The decision to take down my videos is all the more interesting because, technically, they don’t really go against community guidelines: they do not depict a sexual act, I don’t show my genitals and minors aren’t involved. But does the platform distinguish between sexual (intercourse) and sexy (e.g. dancing)? Who knows. And who knows if it’ll come back up.
Despite everything though, it’s worth saying that TikTok is a lot more accurate and clearer than Instagram when it comes to community guidelines. IG only says the below about nudity, and everything else I’ve learnt through my interviews with them:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.Instagram community guidelines
Content That Works On TikTok
If you want to get on TikTok but cba to do all those challenges (which are quite fun, but also addictive), here is what you can do.
- Stick to short videos, 10-20 seconds. Those get a lot more views;
- Videos on your home page look like a GIF, so especially if you’re a pole dancer focus on big moves that look good in a GIF – pendulum spins, kips, jumps etc;
- Informative stuff – like touristy London videos – and challenges, humorous vids are the most popular. If you’re interested in growing, join them but make them relevant to you. If there’s a song challenge, or a new song release, use that song for a short freestyle or choreo;
- Be prepared for a viral. If it happens, a lot of notifications can be overwhelming, and some are mean. The comments aren’t relentless, and I haven’t seen targeted trolling campaigns yet – sometimes other users would even come to your defence – but sometimes answering to someone can be helpful to educate them about their behaviour (e.g. if they say you’re too naked and you wanna tell them you want to live your best life and not wear much).
My Experience With TikTok By May 2020
I’m updating this post after months of Coronavirus lockdown in the UK, where TikTok has become one of the biggest source of entertainment and of Corona funny videos.
Yet, my experience with the platform has become way less fun – I’m probably shadowbanned on it now, which is interesting if you compare this experience with my initial fast growth. I doubt my videos have gotten filthier in a few months, so there must have been some sort of algorithm change.
It seems like TikTok’s algorithm has become a lot more proficient in targeting pole dance content or women’s bodies. Now, each time I post a training video – whether that’s me wonkily freestyling to something, or a choreography from a class I’m taking or teaching – that video gets removed immediately for ‘violation of community guidelines’.
Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, those guidelines haven’t really been violated – which is shown by the fact that, by appealing, I often get my videos back within a day. This leads me to think that the censorship is algorithmic because the video is removed almost immediately, and reinstated after consideration.
Annoyingly however, even though the videos come back, they are not served to audiences as well as before by the TikTok explore pages, so they get little to no visibility. So despite my initial ‘viral’ stint, my content gets no visibility whatsoever.
I am also hemorrhaging followers. I’m at over 6,000 followers at present – just 2,000 less than my IG followers, amassed in about eight years as opposed to a few months. But they are decreasing by the day and, with new content being restricted so often, I am starting to lose patience with TikTok and I’m not growing anymore.
So on top of annoying, trolly 10-year-olds and judgemental mothers, there’s another, emerging fault with TikTok in my experience: far from being the censorship haven I was hoping for it to be, it’s becoming as conservative and annoying as Instagram. Ugh.
What Do TikTok Say?
Nothing. I’ve schmoozed all my contacts and tried TikTok’s PR address, but I bet that due to my status of Instagram’s Pain In The Ass they are avoiding me like the plague.
That’s all folks! If you’re on TikTok, give me a follow. My badge is here: