Opinion | TikTok abortion debate divides Generation Z. Viral videos show how. – Washington Post – The Washington Post

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We collected data on more than 1,000 videos that went viral on TikTok with the #abortion hashtag between January 2022 and September 2022. Of the 100 most viewed, 66 were pro-choice and 11 were pro-life. The rest didn’t clearly state a position.
These videos offer a fascinating glimpse of how complex social and political debates play out on the platform. This post, for example, wraps political content in images of Kim Kardashian.
Other posts reveal emotional scenes or argue a point succinctly and directly. These arguments may be widening our political divisions.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Americans became more interested in abortion. Google Trends data, TV news trackers and polls confirm that voters are talking about reproductive rights now more than they have in years.
But not all Americans are seeing the same debate. Baby boomers might stumble on the abortion conversation as they scroll Facebook or flip through cable news channels. Generation Z Americans — born between 1997 and 2012 — are more likely to open TikTok and see the back and forth flash across their phones.
So, in an effort to understand what American TikTok users (half of whom are under 30) are seeing, we scraped more than 1,000 viral, high-engagement videos with the #Abortion tag and analyzed them — both by running stats and watching posts.
We found two things, chiefly: pro-abortion-rights posts get more views than antiabortion videos — and the platform is almost perfectly designed to further divide us.
The abortion debate was raging on TikTok long before Roe fell.
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A total of 1,050 English-language videos with the #Abortion tag earned a combined 1.8 billion views across the globe.
Each bubble represents one viral video. The bigger the bubble, the more views it got.
#Abortion started to gain traction after conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Supreme Court.
When Texas banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a new wave of #Abortion videos flooded TikTok. Many posts weren’t traditional political arguments. The user @shanemorrisdotsucks, for example, talks about how her experience as a kidney transplant nurse changed her view on when life begins.
#Abortion videos exploded again after the leak of a draft Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to an abortion for nearly half a century.
The most watched #abortion video on TikTok hit 28 million views. It didn’t look or feel like a highly produced cable TV segment: It’s a simple man-on-the-street interview with former Planned Parenthood executive Alexander Sanger.
The basic content of these arguments is familiar: Conservatives say life begins at conception; liberals say abortion is a woman’s right and that banning it would have dire consequences.
But the nature of the conversation on TikTok is distinctive. TikTok allows people to “stitch” clips from other users into their posts — enabling creators to make a targeted broadside against another user. In our analysis, pro-abortion-rights creators were more likely to employ this technique to react to antiabortion videos, while antiabortion posters engaged their opponents less frequently.
Watch on TikTok
Watch on TikTok
TikTok’s basic design — an unending stream of short videos so entertaining you can’t look away — encourages users to suffuse their arguments with emotion, humor and urgency. That isn’t all bad: Abortion can be an emotional topic, and at times it’s appropriate to speak about the procedure with feeling.
But the resulting arguments often rely more on emotional impact than point-by-point engagement with the other side.
Watch on TikTok
Watch on TikTok
Watch on TikTok
What’s more troubling: No company has the manpower needed to find every false or otherwise objectionable post. Some antiabortion creators used infographics with misleading language and images, conflating Plan B and early stage birth control with late-term abortion. Some pro-abortion-rights users used vulgar language to incite audiences’ emotions.
Watch on TikTok
Watch on TikTok
As social media researchers and other data journalists have ably demonstrated, TikTok’s algorithms track users, learn what they like and deliver them more and more of it. The app can provide politically interested users a steadily increasing dose of partisanship and extremism.
The resulting debate is bifurcated and bitter: Liberals dunk on conservatives; conservatives preach to the choir; and the algorithm ushers people into whichever echo chamber they already prefer. And when the TikTok debate breaks into real life, the tactics are bare-knuckle — such as hacking a Texas abortion website or doxing the Supreme Court.
In an ideal world, TikTok’s unique features — high emotional impact, the ability to stage a video debate with other users — would provide an opportunity to improve political discourse. That might be true for some users, and TikTok is arguably an engine for Gen Z activism.
But we don’t live in an ideal world — and the favored platform of Gen Z might be dividing us further.
An earlier version of this column stated that it’s not true that a baby’s DNA could stay in the womb for decades. Some research claims the DNA can remain for years. This version has been updated.
TikTok metrics to define “top videos” include user interactions such as likes, shares and comments, as well as the number of views, time posted, captions, hashtags and sound. TikTok’s ranking system is proprietary and was not disclosed to the authors of this piece, limiting the scope and accuracy of this analysis.
Social media researchers Juan Carlos Medina Serrano and Orestis Papakyriakopoulos were consulted for this piece. Their research inspired this story.
Editing by Sergio Peçanha, and Kate Woodsome. Design editing by Chris Rukan. Copy editing by Trey Johnson.
Photo credits
The covers made up of the mosaic at the top were created by: @doctordavis00, @howstuff.works, @commongroundconvos, @thegoodliars, @therecount, @winela.world, @pedicurist88, @sammywirsz, @nigeriankingg, @xanioeti, @wes_tide, @glamourmag, @nevschulman, @tiktokzfromyt, @mewan_ranasekara, @sammyobeidthem, @goodmorningbadnews, @lilcarlirappa, @miathaicha, @yenialvarez, @theclinicdefender, @connectwithcody, @detikcom, @ur_fav_axolotl, @catmama.420, @jillian_rn4, @williemacc, @freedomovertyranny1776, @deja_foxx, @its_shax, @sneagy, @dyaichi0nixoo, @superstar_stephaniee, @rubengirzda, @oxford_commie, @waiwenat, @alwaysjackson2, @kingclips.yt, @heddalettuceofficial, @repkatieporter, @mayonaisepegger, @skynews, @cinemaandtv, @.moon1ight_, @chroniclesofoliviabackup, @jubilee, @simppbizkit, @iidanielle75ii, @celebfacts4uu, @tee_tow, @nicolinascibona, @abortionqweenn, @heyjanehealth, @dancumminscomedy, @erichunter91, @biggerthanblkandyt, @foxalliekay, @kiamdahlstrand, @abarbielife2.0, @c4news, @news.com.au, @rvpeppershakers, @sirjoshuablack, @robynn4eva, @pluto.gundam, @markeraadt, @melanieajoslin, @movies.series8, @mufastamo, @brutamerica, @marmedddd, @nolegon_, @amnesty.


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