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Legitimizing Protests via Multimedia Platforms: Evidence from TikTok in #BlackLivesMatter

November 6, 2020, By Yanru Jiang, Xin Jin, Qinghao Deng

AbstractThis study uses data from TikTok (N = 8,173) to examine how short-form video platforms challenge the protest paradigm established by the mainstream media in the Black Lives Matter movement, which was triggered by George Floyd's death on 25 May 2020. A computer-mediated visual analysis is employed to identify the presence of four visual frames of protest (riot, confrontation, spectacle, and debate) in multimedia content. Results of descriptive statistics and the t-test indicate that the three delegitimizing frames—riot, confrontation, and spectacle—are rarely found on TikTok, whereas the debate frame, that empowers marginalized communities, dominates the public sphere. However, although the three delegitimizing frames receive lower social media visibility, as measured by views, likes, and shares, legitimizing elements, such as the debate frame, minority identities, and unofficial sources, are not generally favored by TikTok audiences. This study concludes that while short-form video platforms substantially overthrow the protest paradigm on the content creators’ side, the audiences’ preference as measured by social media visibility might still moderately associated with the protest paradigm.

Keywords: TikTok, Black Lives Matter, protest paradigm, media affordance, computer vision

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