Fractured Conversations: Interactions between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities on TikTok



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With over 1 billion active TikTok users, the social media application is shaping up to be a central part of our lives, impacting the way we communicate and consume, yet despite its global scale, the application creates a monolingual experience for its users. TikTok’s videographic format brings a level of vulnerability for its creators. Creators are critiqued on not only the quality of their content but also their appearances and voices. On the other hand, TikTok’s comment section offers a sense of anonymity that can encourage users to interact with creators in a distant, detached way. This strenuous relationship between creator and commenter is further tested in situations where there is a language barrier between the two. Some methods that TikTok employs to create a monolingual space for users on the app are more overt, such as continuously recommending videos in a user’s preferred language and the app’s new automatic translation feature that provides translated subtitles for videos in foreign languages. One less explicit method of maintaining a monolingual experience is in the organization of the comment section. For example, English comments are prioritized on accounts that have English as their preferred language, to the point where Spanish comments that have double or triple the likes of their English counterparts are pushed to the bottom of the comment section, even if the video those comments were posted on is in Spanish. For the English-Spanish bilingual communities that use the application, it creates an inorganic linguistic vacuum, wherein speakers presume that only one language is being used. Studying the ways in which comments in English attempt to relate to or position themselves to Spanish-language content demonstrates the ways that a monolingual user-experience creates barriers from meaningful, reciprocal interactions. Constructing a linguistically equitable space on TikTok, starting with the comments section could promote a further integrated, transnational bilingual community on the platform.



linguistics, tiktok, latino, social media, racialization