A Black Creator Made a Video About His Trauma. TikTok Made it a Joke

On April seventh, 2021, retired MMA fighter Joey Cassanova uploaded a video to his TikTok web page with the message, “If you only knew what I’ve been through.” In the video, he pretends to be riddled by a spray of bullets as phrases flash on the display, alluding to his previous trauma: little one abuse, foster care, being molested, despair, PTSD, the homicide of his ex-wife, the lack of his father two months in the past, three coronary heart assaults. “Somehow I’m still here,” the message on the finish of the video says as Cassanova stares defiantly on the viewer.

Cassanova had needed to make the video for a very long time, however he says members of the family had discouraged him from doing so, telling him it wasn’t acceptable to share such personal particulars on social media. He used an audio that had initially been utilized by a standard finger dancer, a slowed-down model of Vicetone and Tony Igy’s “Astronomia” that integrated gunshot noises. “I thought it was perfect because it felt like I’ve been shot at my whole life,” he tells Rolling Stone.

When he checked TikTok simply a few hours later, he was shocked to seek out it had greater than 1.2 million views (it now has virtually 10 million), and that individuals had began utilizing the audio to make movies with the identical format. He was dismayed, although, to seek out that the movies — a lot of which had been from white creators, a few of whom had been verified — gave the impression to be mocking his, with creators sharing their “trauma” like having small boobs or being allergic to peanuts. Brittany Furlan, a standard Viner-turned-TikToker with 1.5 million followers, used the development to joke about being Italian-American and visiting the Jersey Shore; podcaster Ethan Klein did it and joked about how he’s 35 and his bathtub jet doesn’t work. (Furlan later pulled her video.)

There are actually greater than 185,000 movies underneath the audio, most of that are completely divorced from the unique context of Cassanova’s video, and only a few of which credit score him. And whereas it’s unclear how most of the creators who participated knew of Cassanova’s authentic video, that doesn’t make it any much less painful for him to see the development. “They saw it, they stole it, and they ignored the pain behind the story,” he says.


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Cassanova finally got here ahead on his TikTok to name out these utilizing the development mockingly, prompting creators like Furlan to apologize and delete their very own movies; a lot of his followers have swarmed the feedback of different movies utilizing the audio to tag Cassanova and demand they provide him credit score. But the story of the development he inadvertently began has reignited an ongoing dialogue about virality on TikTok and correctly crediting black creators, says Tia Tyree, professor and interim affiliate dean of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University.

“Black people have always been trendsetters. Therefore our content has been consistently taken,” she says. “With social media and the pervasive nature of it, the magnitude of it is not only incredible, but easily seen.”

Failing to credit score black creators for his or her work has lengthy been a drawback on TikTok, most notably with the case of Jalaiah Harmon, the 14-year-old dancer who created the Renegade dance on the platform in 2019. Though the Renegade grew to become massively standard on TikTok thanks largely to white influencers like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, Harmon’s position in creating the dance was largely unknown till the New York Times profiled her in early 2020, prompting fierce debate over learn how to correctly credit score younger black creators. Most lately, that debate made a resurgence within the public discourse when Rae appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to carry out a sequence of dances, none of which had been attributed to their authentic creators.

TikTok is supposed to be a safe space for all creators to be able to share their story and share their voice,” says Cassanova. “I used this platform to share my voice and my story to give other black creators the inspiration to do the same thing. But every time that happens, some white creator will come and steal it and not give the person credit.”

Black creators have additionally accused TikTok of aggressively censoring their content material and failing to advertise them on the For You web page. Cassanova himself alleges that his account was suspended for violating content material tips following a livestream he did discussing the demise of his father (a consultant for TikTok didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark). In response to such criticism, TikTok issued an apology to black creators last year, and applied an incubator program for black creatives to help rising expertise. But Tyree says Cassanova’s story proves this isn’t sufficient.

“At some point, TikTok needs to be mindful of the consistent theft and build some type of awareness campaign or change their platform that allows this to be stop,” she says. “The lip service has been paid. At some point there has to be actions behind it.”

Arguably, the bigger, extra insidious situation, and one that’s actually not unique to TikTok, is how the character of web virality can take black struggling and trauma, strip it of its context, and switch it into one thing to be skewered by a largely white viewers. Mutale Nkondo, leader of AI for the People and member of TikTok content material advisory board, compares Cassanova’s story to that of video footage of a black girl present process a psychological well being disaster, which in the end grew to become a viral GIF. This development of “digital blackface,” a time period coined by Teen Vogue author Lauren Michele Jackson, is “really, really well-documented,” she says. “You’re making fun of someone at their most vulnerable point and forcing them to relive that trauma through this virality.”

For Cassanova, this has been the impact of his video going viral, even when it wasn’t the intent of most of the creators who jumped on the development. Watching folks use the development to recount their very own minor inconveniences or first-world issues “put me in a mental stress. It was like reliving the trauma,” he says. He made the unique video to encourage his male followers to “have feelings and speak their mind when they’re going through something”; however the response to his authentic video made him really feel like he would have been higher off staying silent.

Ultimately, he doesn’t remorse placing the video up, as he says he’s additionally acquired numerous DMs from folks thanking him from sharing his story. Nor does he harbor ailing will towards creators who jumped on the development with out figuring out in regards to the supply materials, a lot of whom, like Furlan, have deleted their very own model and apologized to him instantly. But he says it hurts to look at a second of vulnerability on his half go viral for all of the fallacious causes. “If people use the trend to tell their story, that’s fine,” he says. “Use it to tell your story. But to make it a trend to be like a comedy, I felt like that was very heartless.” 

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