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Caption-gate

There is a pattern I noticed on TikTok and the icky feeling I got let me know that it was indicative of a deeper issue in our social dynamics.

As a “content creator” (that still feels weird and somewhat inaccurate) on TikTok, I have noticed that there are expectations placed on us without considering the many nuances and differing needs/abilities of the individuals behind the screen.

Providing closed captions on TikTok videos has become a discussion about moral right and wrong - a fundamental tool of white supremacy. And since I do not see the conversation dying down, and some of my favorite Black creators are being effected by the same thing, I believe that dissecting my push-back, and the response to my push-back, is a great learning opportunity on the dangers of thinking you know the “right thing to do”.


Elyse Meyers is a verified creator with over 4M followers who is deeply loved by her audience. She, in an effort to support the Hard of Hearing community and others that rely on closed captions, made a video stating that there is “no excuse” to not add captions to your videos. She says no matter how long or short the video, you should be adding closed captions - otherwise, do you even care about the people who need them?


I have followed Elyse for a while and felt that she would be completely understanding of my pushback and my perspective as a Black creator of anti-racism content. I responded (in video format) that I understood her perspective but it was one lacking nuance, as she is a white woman who does not discuss things that are considered controversial on the app, and to think before making general statements on what others should and should not do. I was correct (of course) and she was very grateful. She followed me back, messaged me privately to thank me and let me know that she learned a lot from me, and also left public comments highlighting her learning and the value of my video. HOWEVER, that did not stop MANY angry white strangers from sending me comments “defending” Elyse and questioning the validity of my pushback.


To be clear, I personally do add captions to my videos, BUT it is a choice made with consequences. For one, the process of adding captions is physically laborious. Secondly, your access is also limited via the captions themselves. But most importantly, potential creators with important things to say are impacted by this kind of “angry advocacy”, and holding back powerful content that could make us all better people.


Okay. So if you do not create content on TikTok, it is hard to overstate the tediousness and fickle-ness of adding captions. It is especially difficult for those of us who have difficulty with executive functioning due to ADHD and/or other neurodivergencies. There is little to no room for mistakes or forgetting anything during the process of putting a video together and then posting it. The app does not allow for editing after you hit the very large ‘Post’ button. So if you forget to go into the ‘captions’ area of your video before you post, you’d have to recreate the video all over again in order to ‘just add captions’. Additionally, if you make edits to your video after you’ve added and edited the captions, BUT BEFORE you hit ‘post’, you better remember to go back into the ‘captions’ area of the editing to add and edit them all over again before you can post. This seems bad and unnecessary, but the tedious nature of the captions feature is just the “overt” barrier to including captions as a creator.


TikTok can, and does, use our captions to determine the “value”, and therefore visibility, of content. TikTok has been known to actively suppress videos about anti-racism and social justice by under-sharing, and/or removing the content altogether through obscure “community guidelines violations” based on the words used in the video. In order to maneuver around these tactics, some creators have resorted to manipulating the spelling of the words within the captions so the algorithm doesn’t recognize the purpose of the video. But I have also heard that creators who do this also receive angry comments about the manipulation of the captions.


*It’s important to note that literally none of the people who complained about, requested, or demanded captions from me were actually in the Hard of Hearing community. In fact, most of the “advocates” trying to let me know that I was wrong about my feelings, referred to people who are Hard of Hearing as “hearing impaired”, that language is harmful and dehumanizing. Thank you to those in the Hard of Hearing community that educated us all and defended my stance - citing that they have their own adaptive tools and automatic closed captions, and told the commenters to stop silencing creators on their behalf.


The biggest hindrance to access in my opinion is in the people’s awareness that white people will do this to us every time. Knowing you will have to endure this?! For trying to help white people?! Only crazy people try and make content under these conditions. As a Black woman, navigating my own Black experience out loud for others to judge/learn from, I want you all to consider that there are Black men, women, and children watching my videos and seeing all of the barriers and consequences that come with speaking my truth. This mental oppression is what I am trying to fight with my platform and this blog. I would like to see a stop to silencing others in the name of morality.


So what do we do about this? I’ve decided to lean into my white side and give this problem a name. Access to creators’ content is being limited from many different angles that the consumer cannot see or imagine. The automatic answer to any issue the viewer has is to demand that creators accommodate to their oppression, rather than look to the company and system with billions of dollars and the ability to do better.


I’ve decided to call this specific tool of white supremacy, Consumer Privilege.


Consumer Privilege

You do not know the physical, mental, or emotional state of Creators, but have strong opinions about what can be expected, and “requested” from them.

  • Creators are making something from nothing. You are not entitled to consume everything that exists to complete understanding. Content is art and intellectual property made by an inspired individual. If you don’t “get it”, can’t understand the language, or have a personal issue that prevents you from fully enjoying a piece of content, it is not the responsibility of the artist to change any of those circumstances for you.


I know this directness feels harsh to some, but know that you can still say and do whatever you want, ask for whatever you want, from whoever you want. This blog changes nothing but your awareness of my personal experience and observations as a creator. People tend to think I am saying what you can and cannot do. That is not how life works. I’m just saying, consider that your “helping” is based in white supremacy and only serves to silence Black people...



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