Black TikTokers Call Out TikTok’s Crediting Problem

  • 8 Black TikTokers were behind one of the biggest TikTok trends of 2020.
  • They say they were barely credited and were not offered the same opportunities as white creators.
  • TikTok has been criticized in the past for failing to address racial bias on the app.

The “Alors On Danse” trend that flooded TikTok in the summer of 2021 was the first time Usim Mang, who posted the original TikTok and formulated the now-iconic dance, met the seven other content creators featured in the video.

The TikTok, which has since hit nearly 150 million views, showed the group slowly swaying in sync to the beat of a remix of “Alors On Danse,” a 2010 song by rapper Stromae.

Mang said the idea came to him on the spot, but after it was posted in July it became one of the biggest trends of the summer, with thousands of TikTok users replicating the dance and superimposing themselves into the original video.

But the legacy of “Alors On Danse” is complex, as the creators involved in the video — who are all Black — say they were scarcely credited, were not verified on TikTok, and were not given the same opportunities white creators often are.

For a lot of TikTokers, being credited for trends (which is usually done by tagging them in the description of a video) is vital. “The opportunities that these artists or creators get are really life-changing,” said 20-year-old Akua Sackey, who was one of the dancers in the video.

For example, when teenager Haley Sharpe made a viral TikTok dance to Doja Cat’s song “Say So” in early 2020, it led to her appearing on news shows like ET Live, and Doja Cat inviting her to perform the dance in a music video. Now, Sharpe has over 3 million TikTok followers, a verified account, and a clothing line.

Mang told Insider he reached out to various television shows and newscasts as the “Alors” trend blew up, but never heard back. According to the creators Insider spoke to, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of TikTok’s disconnect between Black and white creators, which is perpetuated by a lack of credit to the original creators from their white peers as well as the app itself. And when Black creators speak out, they say they can get “shadowbanned” on the platform.

“We have been proven time and time again, that Black creators don’t get credit,” Sackey said. “And people just don’t care about Black creators.”

Due to TikTok’s algorithm, trends can easily spread without their creators being credited

TikTok dances often spread as either sounds or hashtags, and users usually find the creator of a challenge by searching through the videos under the sound or tag to find the video marked “original.” If a trend blows up and the tag gets flooded with content, it can be difficult to find the original TikTok — but not impossible.

“White creators try to make out, like, ‘I didn’t know the dance creator’ — well, figure it out,” TikToker Aaron Canthoop, who also featured in the “Alors” video, told Insider.

“It’s literally easy,” he added.”I guess some creators think they’re too big to do that, but it’s important for creators, especially when they’re trying to grow.”

But there’s no requirement for people to credit a creator, nor an automated way to ensure it happens.

In the summer of 2020, Sackey created a dance challenge called “hit the woah without hitting the woah” set to the 2018  song “Da Huncho.” It involves making small, fast circular movements with your hands before “freezing” while trying to stay as still as possible. Tags associated with the trend peaked at 2.5 million views. Multiple TikToks by some of the app’s biggest creators failed to credit Sackey as the creator of the challenge.

Similarly, a few months before the success, TikToker Bryan Sanon created a TikTok dance challenge set to the song “Knicks” by rapper Cochise. The tag #knickschallenge has 2.5 million views, while 94,500 people used the associated sound.

According to Sanon, when he first uploaded the sound to TikTok, it included his handle, so that users would easily know who to credit if they were to take part in the challenge. However, the sound no longer includes any reference to him, merely the name of the song and the artist.

After posting a TikTok about the issue last December, where he asked for his credit to be restored, Sanon said he was almost immediately “shadowbanned” by the app. “Shadowbanning” involves TikTok purportedly imposing limits on a creator’s account that impacts its visibility, functionality, and ability to post. As previously reported by Insider, Black creators feel they are disproportionately impacted by shadowbanning.

“They tried to ban me for speaking out,” he said.

While TikTok has previously said the platform is “committed to investing in resources and building technology that address” these concerns, the eight influencers Insider spoke to for this interview said they believe they have all experienced shadowbanning at one point.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for TikTok said Black creators are “a critical and vibrant part” of the experience on the app. “We care deeply about the experience of Black creators on our platform and we continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm,” they added.

The TikTok spokesperson also said, “We focus our efforts on fostering an environment where people feel welcomed and empowered to express themselves exactly as they are. We embrace diversity and nothing in our moderation practices, Community Guidelines or in how our For You Feed works, seeks to discriminate against any creator or community on our platform.”

Black creators think TikTok users can be complicit

TikTok audiences have on occasion called out creators who haven’t credited the original TikToker behind a trend.

Addison Rae was widely criticized in March after demonstrating TikTok dances on the “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon without crediting the original Black creators. Charli D’Amelio faced similar criticism when she appeared on the show in March 2020 and did the “Renegade” dance challenge without crediting its creator Jalaiah Harmon.

While many users are quick to speak out, Sackey says this action remains “performative.” According to Sackey, TikTok audiences’ tendency to “cancel” creators “doesn’t get the job done,” as they still continue to engage with these creators even after they’ve been criticized for problematic behavior.

Despite D’Amelio and Rae both facing criticism for not crediting Black TikTokers, D’Amelio remains the most-followed TikToker in the world and now stars in a Hulu reality show with her family. Rae is TikTok’s third most-followed creator and has also signed a multi-movie deal with Netflix after fronting rom-com “He’s All That” this year.

Black creators are the ‘backbone of TikTok,’ but the lack of recognition is causing some to question their future on the app

Earlier this year, in order to protest TikTok’s crediting and shadowbanning issues, many Black members of the TikTok creator community went on strike. As previously reported by Insider, this involved Black creators not making any new dances for a month, with many users at the time saying this was to demonstrate how vital Black TikTokers’ contribution to the app is, and why they needed to be treated better.

Sackey, who participated in the strike, said, “I definitely 100% feel as if Black creators are the backbone of TikTok,” with Sanon adding, “We run the app, it really is a Black app.”

While she was initially hopeful that TikTok would see the strike and feel spurred to amplify Black creators — especially when it comes to brand deals, collaborations, and “spotlighting” them on the platform’s homepage — she told Insider that ultimately she felt “nothing came from” the strike.

When it comes to their future on the app, some TikTokers Insider spoke to are disillusioned.

Sackey told Insider, “For me personally as a creator, it’s burned me out. It’s like TikTok is looking at us in the face and choosing not to see us.”

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.

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