A man asked the question:
"What happens when a man kisses his boyfriend at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve and posts it on the video-sharing social network, TikTok?"
Mark Pasetsky—who goes by Marknewyork on TikTok—found out the answer when he shared something millions of others do at the start of a new year: a kiss with the person they love.
According to an article Pasetsky wrote for Campaign US, when the kiss is between two men, the post is removed because "it's a violation of the platform's community guidelines."
"When I saw the notification on my profile, I was flooded with feelings of shame and alienation."
Here is the video loaded to TikTok.
Just a standard kiss to ring in the New Year.
In fact, it's really quite chaste.
For the former editor in chief of Life & Style and managing editor of OK! Magazine, a double standard needed to be addressed.
"After being out of the closet for 24 years, I knew I needed to take action for myself and for the entire LGBTQ community."
"In a world where bullying is rampant, the relatively new platform that already reaches 60 million active monthly users in the US must support the equal and fair treatment of LGBTQ users and all diverse communities."
"Most importantly, think about a teenager going through the same experience of having their video removed because they simply kissed their same-sex partner. Imagine how devastating it would feel when a popular social network tells them it's not okay to be who they are. Many would be too afraid to speak up and would not know how to respond to this type of discrimination."
For members of marginalized communities, being seen and seeing others like themselves can boost their self esteem. For people not part of those communities, this representation can create an unconscious familiarity and normalization of people unlike themselves.
As people of color began to appear in commercials and on television, there was some backlash. Some stations even banned the content or censored it out of programs.
But studies showed direct links between these inclusive media campaigns and increased support for equality for POC by members outside their community. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt; sometimes it breeds empathy and understanding.
Pasetsky knew equal inclusion in social media was no different.
"That's why I chose to take action – for those who cannot."
"I started by filing a support ticket and then tweeted the company."
When the steps most people take did not yield results, Pasetsky put his extensive experience with media and PR to work.
"Finally, I emailed TikTok's public relations department."
"After explaining that I was writing a piece on the video being removed and demanding answers, my request was quickly forwarded to the moderation team."
"Within two hours, TikTok re-activated my video and let me know it had been incorrectly removed due to human error."
But that excuse wasn't working for Pasetsky.
The social media company previously admitted to removing and suppressing content from LGBTQ users. They claimed it was an attempt to minimize bullying on the site, not by eliminating bullies but by eliminating potential targets.
However censoring and restricting the lives of those being attacked or that they suspect might be attacked is not the appropriate response to bullying in life or on social media.
Whatever the ultimate reason for the removal of his video, Pasetsky wrote that the reinstatement of it on TikTok should not be the end.
"The removal of my New Year's Eve video makes the urgent case for a full internal evaluation of TikTok's policies and moderation practices. A number of tough questions need to be answered."
"If this decision was based on human error, who was the human? How does TikTok make hiring decisions for moderation positions? Is diversity represented on these teams? What about across the organization as a whole? And, most importantly, what will the company do to prevent a repeat of this experience?"
He concluded by stating the removal was not a simple mistake but rather an example of a microaggression.
"The bottom line is we can't allow a social media platform to commit discriminatory micro-aggressions against any community."
Microagressions are the death by a thousand cuts of bigotry and bias.
To those outside an affected community, a microaggression can be easily dismissed as no big deal. Why complain about such a small thing when there are bigger fish to fry?
However studies show these minor offenses lay the ground work for the larger ones.
The Black person who is told they're "so articulate" or the Asian told they speak English so well when it is their first language or the Hispanic person born and raised in the United States questioned about where they are from or the gay man who is told he doesn't "sound gay" are all examples of microagressions. Each one also indicates an implicit bias or sterotype, painting Black people as less intelligent, Asians and Hispanics as foreigners and gay men as speaking in a certain way.
Pasestsky urged others to also speak out.
"TikTok needs to continue to be called out for biased practices. It's critical that the company understands its responsibility to create a safe and welcoming environment for all."
In an email interview with Pasetsky, we asked:
"In your article, you address TikTok with questions about diversity and next steps. If you could create specific next steps for them, what would they be?"
"I would suggest TikTok partner with a respected LGBTQ organization to conduct an extensive review of the social media platform's moderation policies."
"I would also suggest holding diversity and inclusivity training for all members of the organization - especially those responsible for moderating posts on TikTok, as well as reviewing overall hiring practices to make sure members of all diverse communities are represented."
"In addition, a new set of community guidelines need to demonstrate how TikTok will be more welcoming to the LGBTQ and all diverse communities going forward."
"Invariably, people respond to these microaggressions by pointing to 'bigger issues.' What would you say about why addressing microaggressions is important?"
"We need to address microaggressions to let companies like TikTok know it's not okay to censor anybody for who they are. It's important to remember that these microaggressions can be deeply harmful to the individuals that receive them and therefore are equally as important as addressing the 'bigger issues'."
"If we continue to address microagressions in real-time, we will prevent what I see as TikTok's anti-gay bias from becoming an acceptable global policy for the social media platform. The bottom line is that it's not okay for a company like TikTok to censor a same-sex video and hide behind the 'human error' excuse when it's really a microaggression."
"You refer to the documented anti-LGBTQ bias [on TikTok]. Are there other social media platforms that are problematic?"
"To date, I've only personally experienced this anti-LGBTQ bias on TikTok."
"You mention bullying and young people who are still finding their way in life as motivation to pursue this with TikTok to an acceptable resolution. What would you like to say to those younger people about this situation or about anything else?"
"As a video platform, TikTok provides its users a unique opportunity to be expressive. Keep being exactly who you are and show the world who you are."
"Posts of same-sex kisses like mine need to be embraced and supported on platforms like TikTok. Stand up for yourself when you feel like you have been unfairly censored!"
"For anybody else that feels they have been censored by TikTok for being themselves, I strongly support them in speaking up. They can reach me on Twitter @markpasetsky and I'll do what I can to continue to support the LGBTQ or any diverse community that feels they were unfairly treated."
"Is there anything else you'd like to say? Any points you want to expand on?"
"With Valentine's Day coming up, let's send a powerful message to TikTok and the world. Give a big kiss to your same-sex partner and post the video to TikTok. Let's show them we are out and proud of our loving relationships!"
Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Mark Pasetsky's suggestion sounds like a great way to celebrate love, diversity and representation.