Whenever I mention TikTok, people’s responses are often ‘hit or miss’ (that’s a TikTok pun, for those who don’t know). Folk will brush it off, call it lame, and downplay the unbridled joy I am certain they secretly experience from the deluge of videos I send them.
TikTok (formerly known as musical.ly) is a social media platform for creating, sharing, and discovering short music videos. It is billed as an outlet for people to express themselves through singing, dancing, comedy, and lip-syncing. To wit, it is not lame. It is extremely cool. While it may have garnered something of a reputation online for being, ‘weird’ or ‘cringe’ – there’s a whole Twitter account dedicated to it as such – basically, everyone is on it. And unlike Instagram et al, its algorithm is still pure – it isn’t affected by how many likes or followers someone has. Anyone can be ‘famous’, and this brings me to my point – the platform has unintentionally established itself as a tool for underrepresented communities to gain visibility.
Scrolling through the app, you might come across a gay Pakistani Muslim makeup artist in London; a Chinese woman in her late 60s cooking ‘unusual’ food in her backyard; and three teenage girls reenacting a scene from the PowerPuff Girls dressed just like the characters they’re portraying – Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup – but also wearing hijabs. Click on each of the three’s profiles and perhaps unexpectedly, they’re all TikTok famous.
Blossom aka Nadia started making TikToks in December 2018. She’s gained a following of 406k. “I never thought anything would come out of it. Honestly, sometimes I think I’m living in a simulation and it’s just bugging out.” Nadia just turned 20.
Layla, 18, from Nashville, TN, started making videos in late October of 2018. She now has 247.6k followers and counting. When she isn’t going to art shows or reading fanfic on Wattpad, she’s making videos on TikTok about skateboarding, the latest dance trend, or going on live to talk to her fans. “It really changed my life a lot. I used to be super insecure and shy, but ever since I started making content, I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable with myself and who I really am.” And from New York, Zahra, who also just turned 20, says she started TikTok off as a joke. “I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. And then I spent the whole night with my friend making videos.” Zahra started her TikTok journey in February 2019, now she has 1.2 million followers. “It’s crazy because going into it, I would never have thought a million people would care. Now I’m getting recognized in public.”
But as is often the case, as their popularity grew, so did their detractors. A wise person once said, ‘Haters gon’ hate’, and with the girls’ vast visibility, specifically, Islamophobic trolls chimed in. “I’ve had countless young non-Muslims tell me that I’ve changed their outlook on Muslims, or that I’ve inspired them to research Islam,” she says. “There are people out there, cowards mostly, who hide behind anonymous profiles and post hateful rhetoric. But for every hateful comment I get, there will be 20 people defending me. Honestly, the amount of kindness I get makes it easy to overlook the hate.”
While the rise in social media has given added visibility to the prevalence of ignorance and bigotry, the increased dissemination of information has surely served to inform and educate people in positive ways. The hate, born from fear, is on the decline. How can you hate on three young women, performing as The Powerpuff Girls, just because they’re wearing hijabs?
And unlike any generation before it, Gen Z is always ready to fight and correct ignorant people. “Social awareness is much more prevalent than it was in previous generations,” says Nadia. “We don’t fear knowledge and we battle ignorance. We also have a drive for change and acceptance because we’re young, opinionated, and fearless. We want Muslims to be represented, and in a good way. I want people to see that we’re regular people who laugh, cry, have fun, and explore. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. And at the very least, I want to be respected. Every good person deserves that.”
END OF STORY