Leg booty? Panoramic? Seggs? How TikTok changes language

To hear some people on ICT Tac say it, we spent years in a “panoramic”. Or maybe it was a “panini press”. Some are part of the ‘booty legs’ community and strongly oppose the ‘cornucopia’.

If all of this sounds like a foreign language to you, that’s because it sort of is.

TikTok creators have made a habit of offering substitutes for words that they believe may affect the promotion of their videos on the site or violate moderation rules.

So, in 2021, someone describing a pandemic pastime might have believed (perhaps incorrectly) that TikTok would mistakenly report it as part of a crackdown on pandemic misinformation. So the user could have said “panoramic” or a similar word instead. Similarly, concern that sexual topics could trigger problems has prompted some creators to use “leg booty” for LGBTQ and “cornucopia” instead of “homophobia.” Sex has become “seggs”.

Critics say the need for these evasive neologisms is a sign that TikTok is being too aggressive in its moderation. But the platform says a steady hand is needed in a freewheeling online community where many users try to post harmful videos.

Those who violate the rules may be banned from posting. The video in question can be deleted. Or it may simply be hidden from the For You page, which suggests videos to users, the main way for TikToks to get widespread distribution. Searches and hashtags that violate policies may also be redirected, the app said.

When TikTok users think their videos have been taken down for discussing topics the platform doesn’t like, they call it “shadow banning,” a term that has also caught on. on Twitter and others social platforms. It’s not an official term used by social platforms, and TikTok hasn’t even confirmed its existence.

The new vocabulary is sometimes called algospeak.

It’s not unique to TikTok, but it’s a way for creators to imagine they can circumvent moderation rules by misspelling, replacing, or finding new ways to mean words that might otherwise be red flags resulting in delays in publication. The words could be made up, like “not alive” for “dead” or “kill”. Or they might involve new spellings – lesbian with a dollar sign, for example, that TikTok’s text-to-speech feature pronounces “the dollar bean.”

In some cases, users may just have fun, rather than worrying about their videos being deleted.

A TikTok spokesperson suggested users might be overreacting. She pointed out that there were “many popular videos that feature sex”, sending links that included a stand-up from the Comedy Central page and videos for parents on how to talk about sex with children. .

Here’s how the moderation system works.

The app’s two-tier content moderation process is a wide-ranging net that attempts to capture any references that are violent, hateful, or sexually explicit, or that spread misinformation. Videos are analyzed for violations and users can report them. Those found in violation are either automatically deleted or returned for review by a human moderator. Some 113 million videos were taken down from April to June this year, of which 48 million were removed through automation, the company said.

While much of the removed content is about violence, illegal activity, or nudity, many language violations seem to remain in a gray area.

Kahlil Greene, who is known on TikTok as the Generation Z historian, said he had to edit a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in a video about people whitewashing King’s legacy. So he wrote the phrase Ku Klux Klanner as “Ku K1ux K1ann3r” and spelled “white moderate” as “wh1t3 moderate”.

Partly due to frustrations with TikTok, Greene started posting her videos on Instagram.

“I can’t even quote Martin Luther King Jr. without having to take so many precautions,” he said, adding that it was “very common” for TikTok to flag or remove an educational video about racism or racism. black history, wasting research, screenwriting time and other work he has done.

And the possibility of an outright ban is “a huge concern”, he said. “I’m a full-time content creator, so I make money from the platform.”

Greene says he makes money from brand deals, donations and gigs that come from his social media.

Alessandro Bogliari, CEO of Influencer Marketing Factory, said moderation systems are smart but can make mistakes, which is why many influencers his company hires for marketing campaigns use algospeak.

A few months ago, the company, which helps brands engage with young users on social media, used a trending song in Spanish in a video containing a profanity word, and a measurable drop in views led the Bogliari’s team to believe it had been shadow-banned. “It’s always hard to prove,” he said, adding that he couldn’t rule out that overall viewership was down or that the video just wasn’t interesting enough.

TikTok’s guidelines don’t list banned words, but some things are consistent enough for creators to know to avoid, and many share lists of words that have triggered the system. So they call nipples “nip nops” and sex workers “accountants”. Sexual assault is simply “SA” And when Roe v. Wade was canceled, many began to refer to abortion as “camping”. TikTok said the topic of abortion was not banned on the app, but the app would remove medical misinformation and violations of community guidelines.

Some creators say TikTok is unnecessarily harsh with content about gender, sexuality and race.

In April, advocacy group Human Rights Campaign’s TikTok account posted a video saying it had been temporarily banned from posting after using the word “gay” in a comment. The ban was quickly overturned and the comment reposted. TikTok called it a mistake by a moderator who didn’t carefully review the comment after another user flagged it.

“We are proud that LGBTQ+ community members choose to create and share on TikTok, and our policies are aimed at protecting and empowering those voices on our platform,” a TikTok representative said at the time.

Nonetheless, Griffin Maxwell Brooks, a creator and student at Princeton University, noticed that videos containing profanity or “LGBTQ+ community markers” were flagged.

When Brooks writes closed captions for videos, they said they usually substitute profanity with “phonetically similar words”. Fruit emoticons replace words like “gay” or “queer.”

“It’s really frustrating because censorship seems to vary,” they said, and seems to disproportionately affect queer communities and people of color.

Will these words end up sticking?

Probably not most of them, experts say.

As soon as older people start using the online slang popularized by young people on TikTok, the terms “become stale,” said Nicole Holliday, an assistant professor of linguistics at Pomona College. “Once the parents have it, you have to move on.”

The extent to which social media can change language is often overstated, she said. Most English speakers don’t use TikTok, and those who do may not pay much attention to neologisms.

And like everyone else, young people are adept at “code-switching,” which means they use different language depending on who they’re with and what situations they’re in, Holliday added. “I teach 20 year olds – they don’t come to class and say ‘legs and booty’.”

But then again, she says, few could have predicted the slang word “cool”‘s endurance as a marker of all things generally good or trendy. Researchers say he emerged nearly a century ago in the 1930s jazz scene, retreated from time to time over the decades, but kept coming back.

Now, she says, “everyone who speaks English has that word.” And that’s pretty cool.

(This article originally appeared in The New York Times.)

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