Why So Many TikTok Creators Changed Their Profile Pictures

Photographed by Gabby Jones.
Across the country, people are organizing, donating, and protesting police brutality and institutional racism. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has become a primary news source for many — a place for compiling evidence of police violence as well as helpful tips and resources for those fighting racism within themselves and on the streets
So as part of the ongoing conversation on anti-racism, users are taking a closer look at every major social media platform and sounding the alarm when they believe vital content is being suppressed. Just last week, people on TikTok were having trouble viewing a number of posts linked to hashtags related to the Black Lives Matter movement. (The issue was later determined to be a "pre-upload issue" by TikTok.)
But in late May, Black TikTok creators, led by the founder of Utah's Black Lives Matter chapter, banded together to raise awareness around the uneven application of TikTok's community guidelines. A virtual protest made visible by the masses of Power Fist profile pictures.
Since the original May 19 Blackout, TikTok shared a letter with Refinery29 that was addressed to creators on behalf of TikTok U.S.' Director of Creator Community, Kudzi Chikumbu. The letter read, "For those of you who may have participated in or share similar sentiments with this movement, I want to let you know that we hear you." The letter also denies any claims that TikTok is targeting Black Lives Matter content: "I also want to emphasize that we are absolutely not targeting Black creators' content for removal." Adding that the platform has set up a cross-functional team that will, among other things, perform a "deeper analysis on how our products, policies, and practices can better serve our users."
The Power Fists remain raised on TikTok. As a result of the May 19 Blackout, many Black creators claim to have experienced spikes in follow and engagement — a testament to the campaign's success. Others claim that their accounts have been shadowbanned, often uploading content and noting in the caption that they will likely have to upload it several times.
This story was originally published on May 20, 2020, additional reporting was added.
Despite our assumptions, the internet is simply just an extension of the real world. And, as in the real world, while "Renegade" and "Say So" have come to dominate TikTok, their Black creators are largely left out of the picture. But, again, just like in the real world, the internet is a hub for communities to grow and support each other, which is exactly what we're seeing on TikTok.
Anyone who has used TikTok for long enough will tell you that the platform's community standards are enforced haphazardly, at best. And recently, a pattern of video censorship is taking form, one that seems to disproportionately affect Black creators that use the platform to have candid educational conversations about racism.
So TikTok's community of Black creators is banding together to protest the platform's uneven application of its community guidelines. You've likely already noticed that many a profile picture has been changed to a black-and-white illustration of a Power Fist to protest the platform's unfair treatment of Black creators and the over-policing of their videos. This is part of a larger movement started by Lex Scott, founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Utah.
Ava, a 17-year-old with over a million followers, better known by her TikTok handle @cutiethicckums, told Refinery29 why she changed her profile picture: "I saw many accounts with the Black power symbol as their profile picture, especially Black creators who use their account to purposely speak on Black issues." She names Jax (@fatherco0n), @theesudani, Iman (@theemuse), Jory (@alluringskull), Taylor (@taylorcassidyj), Lex (@lethallex), and many more as the creators she's seen leading the charge.
"This is not something that TikTok as a company has organized but a movement that Jory, Iman, and Lex put together and constantly advertised in order to spread the word," Ava adds. "They created this movement to combat the racism and anti-blackness that is constantly being shown on TikTok."
Along with a change of profile picture, people that want to take part have been encouraged to use the #ImBlackMovement, #BlackLivesMatter, and #BlackVoicesHeard hashtags where applicable and to also make an effort to like, follow, and comment on accounts owned by Black creators for the duration of the protest. "I feel as if everyone is very unified at this time because there are many Black creators who have had their accounts and videos deleted for speaking about black issues and racism," Ava notes.
According to Kam, a 20-year-old creator best-known for her beauty TikToks (@kamranmc), the campaign goes beyond issues specific to the platform. "The campaign is to show support and spread awareness for Black lives due to brutality and murders of African Americans," she said. "The fist to me means: I am here, I am Black, and I stand with my Black brothers and sisters, dead or alive. Because we matter. I hope by doing this movement it will show others that we deserve a place to express ourselves without TikTok banning or deleting our content."
It hasn't only been Black TikTokers participating in the protest — hordes of non-black allies also changed their profiles and supported Black creators out of solidarity. Black-out day was yesterday, May 19, and according to CNN, non-black TikTokers also showed their solidarity by abstaining from posting all day and directing their support to Black creators, a community that is vital to TikTok. If you were on TikTok yesterday, you probably saw it at work.

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