Giving Credit Where Credit is Due on TikTok

by Jeremiah Estrada

Megan Thee Stallion, Rapper Behind Numerous Viral Songs on TikTok

If you have ever been on TikTok, or any other form of social media, then it is likely that you have seen some viral dance trends such as the “Renegade” or “Savage” dance in the past.  Dances like that and more continue to rise to fame thanks to Black creators but fall short to white influencers that tend to step into their spotlight.  This cycle of not giving credit to the content created by Black and POC users has gone on for far too long and the rightful credit for their work on these platforms is long-awaited and well-deserved.  There is much to understand about how ownership practices function on TikTok, the lack of credit to these creators, and the creative strike that has been put into motion to earn justice for their content.

 

 

The practice of reusing, remixing, or recreating work isn’t foreign to TikTok or for anything in the media for that matter.  These types of things have occurred for as long as we have known whether it pertains to music, literature, and more.  The ethics behind crediting the original owner changes things though which can spark conflicts and lawsuits.  On this platform, TikTok users have a desire for acknowledgment and credit when others borrow or reuse a piece from their original content which could be a specific video, trend, dance move, or audio (Abidin).  These often fall under a category known as “Please Credit” videos where users are seeking attribution and authorship for what they created.  This can also happen in the simplest fashion on this app where a dialogue meme is changed and interpreted differently but fails to credit the original because of how viral it has gotten.  These originals tend to fade into the thousands of other videos that use the same sound, trend, or concept.  This concern has also affected Douyin which is the original Chinese version of the TikTok app.  English-speaking users have been found to infiltrate and colonize this app by using a VPN and making their own accounts because they are drawn to the trends specific to that platform.  These viral instances, among others like it, are not so different from the constant overshadow of Black creators on the app where credit isn’t appropriately received.

Jalaiah Harmon, Creator of the Renegade Dance

The miscredit or lack thereof for dance trends that rose to popularity on TikTok is nothing we haven’t seen before but has grown to become prevalent in social media and the media as a whole.  The outrage has become more widespread after a segment on the late-night talk show “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” from a few months ago in March.  The show featured internet personality Addison Rae performing a compilation of different popular TikTok dances that were all originally choreographed by other creators.  The several viral dances included ones known as “Do It Again”, “Corvette Corvette”, “Savage”, “Blinding Lights”, and more.  During this segment, Jimmy Fallon held up cards with the names of each dance, but what the cards failed to do was name the people who created them.  The issue was later resolved when Fallon said in an interview with TMZ that the creators were all given credit in the YouTube video posted of that part of the show.  Although that conflict was seemingly solved, that was just the bare minimum of what could and has to be done regarding these creators on TikTok.  Addison Rae’s television appearance is just a fraction of a larger problem that goes beyond this platform with how white creators co-opt and capitalize off the backs of Black creators (Penrose).  Top creators on the app such as Rae and Charli D’Amelio have found themselves fame leading them to pursue full-time careers as influencers thanks to Black contemporaries which they have based their content off of.  TikTok doesn’t pay users directly, but revenue can be a result of recognition.  This is something Black creators are derived from who always get pushed off to the sidelines while another person gets publicly acknowledged for their hard work.

 

Because of how long the unfairness to Black creators on TikTok has been brewing, a strike on the app has started as a protest for the lack of credit to their work.  The strike started over a month ago in late June in response to how tiresome the community has grown to not receiving credit for their original work and creativity.  Instead, white influencers are able to profit off them and make millions of views performing dances that they didn’t come up with.  The hashtag “BlackTikTokStrike” has taken off on the app and on Twitter as well where these creators are refusing to create any new dances until they are able to get the credit that is rightfully theirs (Pruitt-Young).  A live example of these efforts includes Megan Thee Stallion’s latest hit “Thot Shit.”  If you were to view the videos under the song in TikTok, a viral dance wouldn’t be present using the audio, instead, Black creators using it to call out the issue and raise awareness can be found along with white creators who try to create anything of their own using the song.  According to Sarah J. Jackson, an associate professor and co-director of the Media, Inequality & Change Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, even before the internet, a large amount of American culture comes from Black culture.  Mainstream media has been the inspiration of white folks basing it off the artistic and creative forms of Black folks.  Jackson said that Black art forms and Black dance moves have been appropriated and watered down to be used by white folks in order to make money throughout history.  Black creators do still continue to use the app, but now they have started to sit back and point out how everyone else is struggling creatively without their input as opposed to creating dances that get stolen.

 

This issue the Black community faces is nothing new, but it has developed into a different form in our more modern and digital society.  Forgetting to credit the original owner of a video can seem harmless, but it has the power to keep individuals and groups of people from receiving the recognition they properly deserve, especially when it negatively affects Black people and POC.  This acknowledgment that has been lacking widely is able to open opportunities and lead to success compared to the same people continuously taking credit from it.  The movement to get these creators a fair amount of credit can extend past TikTok to take place in our culture and media on a larger scale.


References

Abidin, Crystal. (2020). Mapping Internet Celebrity on TikTok: Exploring Attention Economies and Visibility Labours. Cultural Science, 12(1), 77–103. https://doi.org/10.5334/csci.140.

Penrose, N. (2021, April 29). TikTok was built on the backs of Black Creators. Why can’t they get any credit? ELLE. https://www.elle.com/culture/a36178170/black-tiktok-creators-mya-nicole-chris-cotter-addison-rae-jimmy-fallon/.

Pruitt-Young, S. (2021, July 2). Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/07/01/1011899328/black-tiktok-creators-are-on-strike-to-protest-a-lack-of-credit-for-their-work.