Learning about TikToks
I am a Z-illennial: born at the end of the Millennial era and right at the beginning of the generation now known as Gen-Z. Even though Gen-Z made TikTok what it is today, my old-soul-self, naturally felt quite out of my element at the beginning of this project because I felt really removed from TikTok culture; I didn’t even have the app on my phone. To fully immerse myself in the YEAH project, I approached it as a sort of research project. First, I learned what a TikTok is: a TikTok is different from a video because a TikTok is a TikTok. 15, 30, or 180 second videos are compiled by the user in the TikTok app or another video editing app like Viamaker or BeeCut by compiling shorter video clips together to make up the longer video. Downloading TikTok and watching a couple TikToks on my “For You” (content feed) page was a very small first step. After going to a training led by a MOASH youth with TikTok program leaders Chardae and Natasha, TikTok started to make a bit more sense. The youth guided us through how to make a TikTok, which for 15-180 seconds can be an extremely involved process.
The best way to understand TikTok is to actually make a TikTok. For further context into the journey that was coming to understand the complex nuances of TikTok making and even watching, it’s important to note that TikTok stars can spend hours upon hours making what appears to be a simple 15 second TikTok. The first TikTok I ever made was for the YEAH project. I filmed myself having a conversation with my 16 year old self and we had a conversation about HIV and fear-based HIV education. The 60 second TikTok did very well! It got 25 likes and 727 views which I was very proud of for my first TikTok. Amidst being a 60 second video, it took me 5 hours to make. Yup, you read that right, 5 hours. I attribute this mostly to me still not knowing how to make a TikTok. By the time I made my second HIV TikTok, there was a TikTok update that created auto generated subtitles for the TikToks, which helped make creating my TikToks much easier.
A part of my role with the YEAH project was reviewing TikToks that MOASH youth submitted. I created the review criteria that each TikTok was going to be checked by to ensure there was consistency and accuracy of information shared. The criteria included: accurately portraying HIV information, utilizing the National Library of Medicine as a cited resource in the TikTok, and including subtitles for accessibility. Beyond these criteria, youth could make any TikTok they wanted as long as the TikTok did not include any words banned or “shadow banned” by the TikTok algorithm (at the start of this project #lgbt was shadow banned which meant that if a TikTok user wrote #lgbt in the Tiktok caption, or on the video itself, the video would get little to know views). By the end of the project, this was no longer the case for #lgbt/q, but was still the case for words like sex, penis, and vagina.
What I took away from it
I learned so much from the YEAH project and I am still learning! Amidst the success of the two TikToks I shared to TikTok with 727 and 738 views respectively, when I shared these TikToks to MOASH’s TikTok page, the TikToks only got between 6 and 11 views. I’m still not sure why. Overall, I learned that TikTok is very cool because you don’t need to have a following at all to have a video do really well. TikTok is infamous for having first time TikTokers go viral. And even though my TikToks only got around 700 views and the TikToks on MOASH’s page only get around 10, I think that is still a win! All the TikToks we shared for the YEAH project were HIV positive and truly shared the good news about HIV! And we really are continuing the journey of not only sharing medically accurate information about HIV, but also destigmatizing HIV education along the way.
Example of the most viewed TikTok from this project: HIV is NOT a death sentence
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