How Transfeminine TikTok Creators Navigate the Algorithmic Trap of Visibility Via Folk Theorization

Social platforms open important doors to visibility for transgender people, through which they can pursue key goals such as broader recognition and normalization. However, each door is also potentially a trap, filled with risks and consequences — especially for those whose goals require visibility. Via a grounded theory interview study with 17 transfeminine content creators on TikTok, I find that, in an algorithmically mediated environment such as TikTok, users navigate potential doors to visibility and their associated traps via folk theorization. Moreover, I find that transfeminine creators employ multiple complex and overlapping folk theories, with actionable theories guiding the careful navigation of doors to visibility, and demotivational theories alerting creators to traps that are too risky to spring. I introduce five novel folk theories of TikTok spanning both the For You Page and content moderation systems which creators use to guide their decision making, and discuss how two cross-cutting issues, perceived algorithmic paternalism and decontextualization, illustrate major issues for transfeminine creators and opportunities for more supportive design.

Citation

Michael Ann DeVito. 2022. How Transfeminine TikTok Creators Navigate the Algorithmic Trap of Visibility Via Folk Theorization. In Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, in press.