From The 'Foopahh Trend' To 'Algospeak,' Avoiding Censorship On TikTok Has Become An Art Form
Over the past few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular and influential social media apps, boasting over a billion users worldwide as of 2023. An app of that size, especially one that's mostly used by people between the ages of 16-24 (and likely even younger), requires a lot of moderation to handle the countless number of videos uploaded to the app each day.
Moderating that much content isn't just a daunting task, but an impossible one. That's why TikTok utilizes auto-moderation bots that can strike down videos that seem to break terms-of-service without a human moderator ever seeing them. It's an absolutely necessary process considering the amount of allegedly traumatic videos posted to the site every day, but it's far from flawless.
While the moderators, both living and automated, do their best to strike down content that breaks TOS, there are some trends and videos that inevitably slip through the cracks. This heavy and uneven moderation has inspired many TikTokers to find ways to purposely slip through these cracks and post content that blatantly leaps over TOS in the pursuit of everything from discussing heavy topics to advertising OnlyFans pages. Here's how.
@propilt tiktok moderation was asleep 💀 #fyp #december22 #2022 #foryoupage #viral #joke #rizz #tiktok #blowthisup ♬ original sound – 🐟>>>
Algospeak (Unalive, Mascara, etc.)
Algospeak might be the most tried and true method of avoiding censorship on TikTok. It's also one of the most necessary methods if you want to discuss heavy subjects like trauma.
Lots of people use apps like TikTok as a sort of therapeutic device to share their trauma with the world. TikTok's algorithm allows this content to find an audience of people who can hopefully relate and offer their support, advice or simple words of comfort.
No matter how you view this practice or how effective trauma dumping it is as a form of therapy, it's inevitably popular on the app and not something that can be easily stopped. People have been sharing and oversharing online since the days of MySpace for better and for worse, TikTok just allows this content to go viral more often than ever before.
@kayleeavemealone it’s not about mascara 🙂 #fyp #fypシ #mascara #mascaratrend ♬ constellations by duster –
@desiraecomet when hell doesn’t even want you #tw #foryoupage ♬ original sound – sam clyde
The problem is that TikTok's moderation doesn't seem to like some of the words that come with discussing trauma online. If you're not careful, saying a word like "suicide," even if you're simply discussing it rather than using it in a provocative way, could get you banned.
To avoid this, TikTokers started using words like "unalive" in place of "suicide" and talking about "mascara" to discuss serious topics like sexual assault (and sometimes as an alternative to the word "vibrator").
The latter term recently lead users to accuse Julia Fox of condoning sexual assault when she mistakingly thought a TikToker was actually talking about mascara in a post. This highlights a major flaw in TikTok's moderation that's seemingly not so easy to fix. They don't want certain harmful words or topics discussed on their platform, but that won't stop people from sharing what they want. It only encourages new, confusing ways of discussing these topics. We can all figure out what these algospeak terms mean if we dig hard enough, but we shouldn't need to use them at all in the right context and TikTok isn't making that a possibility.
Sexual Algospeak, Fake Bodies, Dirty Acronyms and 'Things'
Algospeak is largely used to discuss serious topics without censorship, but it's also been heavily popularized as a way to talk about more risque topics and avoid the mods. While they're not the only ones to do this, OnlyFans models and e-girls trying to drive traffic to their more salacious platforms have perfected this art form.
TikTokers have effectively popularized the word "corn" as an alternative to "porn," the Emoji patter "⬛️🟧" to mean PornHub, created slang terms like built-in waterfall to discuss the moisture on their most intimate parts and popularized the use of sexual acronyms like STFUATTDLAGG and LMSYCUYCDMT to spice up their thirst traps and share ideas that would never be allowed on TikTok otherwise.
@getlustcast What’s your favourite Melody Marks video? #fy #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #bruh #wow #hard #hardwork #hardworking #corn #cornstar #melodymarks #japan #japanese #japantiktok #japanthings #japaneseculture #japantravel ♬ Paris – Else
Another popular practice on TikTok is writing "fake body" or using the hashtag "#fakebody" on more provocative content to try and trick moderators into believing that what's being shown is a fake person. Whether this works or not is anyone's guess, but it's also used on sites like Instagram, so maybe there's something to it.
One of the most consistently popular ways to share sexual ideas on TikTok is using the word "thing." For example, the belly press thing was one of the most viral phenomenons on TikTok last year. TikTokers kept going viral posting videos alluding to someone doing "the belly press thing" on them without any additional context, forcing users to Google the term and learn that it refers to a sex move.
@iamyazzyboo how many?😩 #fakebody #fyp #viral ♬ Benjamins Burn – 🐺
This was preceded by the knee thing, which saw similar virality in the exact same way. TikTokers would post videos discussing it with no context, viewers would Google it and learn that it's a sex move and the cycle would repeat. These trends have proven to be a great way to go viral on the FYP. For OnlyFans models, who often take part in these trends through thirst trap videos, this helps draw eyes to their content and gain subscribers.
The Foopahh Trend, Something Just Snapped and OnlyFans Promotion
There are a lot of OnlyFans creators on TikTok, but you wouldn't know it from their bios. TikTok does not allow the promotion of OnlyFans accounts on the site, likely because of how many young people use it. But for a lot of people, OnlyFans is their main source of income and with TikTok being such a massive platform, it's worth it for models to find ways to promote their OF account at the risk of getting their TikTok account banned.
At the simplest levels, OF creators use algospeak, post thirst trap videos full of implications and dress provocatively (but not too provocatively to get banned) to help suggest they offer premium content. Some models will write something like "check insta for links" in their bio, where they share their Instagram name, which includes a link tree with the OF link. Recently though, OnlyFans creators have been going to extra lengths to give viewers a preview of what they can expect by subscribing to their premium content.
@joex1sx #HolidayOREOke #fyp ♬ original sound – JOEx1sxab3astx
Back in October 2022, the something just snapped trend took over the platform. This trend saw users utilize TikTok's new photo slideshow feature to hide a provocative photograph of themselves in the middle of about 30 other photographs to help drive viewers to their profile. Although it's now been mostly wiped from the platform, the trend remained popular for weeks with little moderation.
Recently, the foopahh trend became one of the most baffling and popular lewd trends on TikTok. The trend was started by an OF creator named Foopahh and sees women flash the camera very briefly in a way that the app's auto moderators can't seem to detect.
The most popular method has TikTokers show the tip of their breasts from behind a door before pulling it back and walking out with their shirts on as if it never really happened. Other methods involve fully flashing your breasts in a shadowy closet, showing them through the reflection of a faraway mirror or tap, revealing your breasts through a wall of your own hair or just putting the camera so close to your nipple that it becomes a blurry, hard-to-decipher blur to anyone out-of-the-know.
For OnlyFans models on TikTok, the idea is that flashing the viewer might drive them to click on their page, search for their username or go to their Instagram page and eventually end up on their OF page. While the trend only became widely popular in February 2023, Foopahh was doing it as early as January and videos of people participating in the trend were popping up on FYPs and gaining millions of views before getting taken down.
Many TikTokers have expressed shock that the trend was allowed to get so popular for so long, inspiring memes about TikTok moderators sleeping on the job or simply not caring about the trend. Ultimately, the Foopahh trend highlights yet another flaw in TikTok's auto-moderation practices. The trend has died down quite a lot since February, but flashing videos still seem to be popping up occasionally. Now that TikTokers know they can get away with this with the right amount of tact, it's unlikely it will ever go away completely.
@yzaia2 But my posts get banned for random reasons 💀💀 #foryou #fypシ ♬ i must apologise – ky
The Foopahh trend is ultimately a bit of a double-edged sword for OF creators on TikTok. While some have praised it as being a good way to drive subscribers, others have criticized it as being a step too far. Twitter user @StephOshiri, an OF creator, suggested in February that the trend is a "bad look" for OF creators and only serves to make moderation tougher on them. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen.
What Do We Do About It?
The Foopahh trend stands as an ultimate example of the effects that uneven and flawed censorship has had on TikTok, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. We don't know for sure that it's all the auto-moderators' fault, or why exactly it's been able to go viral for so long, but whatever the reason, TikTok has made it clear in their TOS that they don't want nudity on the platform. Yet, they are allowing thousands of videos with explicit nudity to enter FYPs across the globe.
In the past, TikTok has gone to great measures to hide things like the blackout challenge from users, even disallowing searches for the term on their app. Yet, "foopahh" and "foopahh trend" are still allowed searches on the app and at the time of writing, searching them results in videos with full nudity immediately showing up.
There is a clear problem with how TikTok is moderating its platform, but the way to fix it is unclear, especially from an outsider's perspective. Until that problem gets fixed, we'll be sitting here, waiting to report on the next, inevitable boob-centric viral TikTok trend.
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