U.S. LGBT+ TikTok users fear losing 'safe space' as Trump bans downloads

by Rachel Savage | @rachelmsavage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 18 September 2020 21:02 GMT

FILE PHOTO: China and U.S. flags are seen near a TikTok logo in this illustration picture taken July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

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TikTok has become a popular platform for young LGBT+ Americans to swap jokes, make friends and share their experiences

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, Sept 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. LGBT+ TikTok users said on Friday they feared losing a popular community platform and valued "safe space", after the Trump administration announced it would stop Americans from downloading the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

The order, which takes effect on Sunday, only bans new downloads of the app, but TikTok said another restriction due to kick in on Nov. 12 would amount to an effective ban affecting existing users.

TikTok, which has 100 million U.S. users, is widely used by young LGBT+ people to share niche jokes, find a date, and swap advice and stories about traumatic experiences such as being forced into conversion therapy.

"It's gutting," said Rob Anderson a former marketing manager from New York City, with almost a million followers on his account @heartthrobert, where he posts humorous "Gay Science" videos.

"It's a space where trans and queer and gay people can have fun with their gayness," said Anderson, who quit his job to pursue comedy thanks to TikTok.

"It's the first time I've ever seen anything like that for gay and queer and trans people."

The 32-year-old said the app's algorithm made it feel as if you were in a room with millions of other people sharing a joke.

Hunter, a transgender 16-year-old from Michigan with more than 23,000 followers on TikTok, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that LGBT+ TikTok "genuinely felt like it was a safe space".

"My mental health might get a little bit worse, because, even though sometimes social media can really, really bring me down, TikTok has become a coping mechanism, especially during lockdown... it also connects me with people," Hunter said.

Dill, a 25-year-old Boston teacher and self-described "Lesbian step sister", who has 131,000 followers at @dillyonce, said the app had become a second home and family for people who felt like their "weird and beautiful" videos were valued.

"Having to leave this community that has welcomed me so warmly over these last few months would be devastating," she said.

"Without TikTok I would never have been so blessed to have met so many amazing people that I consider genuine friends."

The ban on new U.S. downloads could still be rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect, if TikTok's parent group ByteDance seals a deal with Oracle that addresses concerns about the security of its users' data.


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(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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