It’s been a while since I’ve done a discussion post, but this topic has been in my drafts since July because these articles take a long time to write. It might be a little controversial but I sincerely want to talk about this. So let’s do this!
First, let’s discuss the platforms themselves.
Instagram and Tiktok both have wonderful advantages. However, both of them have also come under fire for having biased algorithms. An article by City News published earlier this year talks about the Instagram algorithm’s effects on accounts of plus-size people, especially. Of course, a bookstagram account does not require one to show one’s face, and the algorithm has since been improved from my point of view. The point still stands that there’s an inherent bias in the platform.
Tiktok is worse. There have been countless allegations against the platform that the algorithm is biased against POC creators and plus-size creators. As of July 2021, NBC News published the account of a man who was censored on TikTok for putting the word “black” in his bio, even if all he said was “I am a black man”. However, if he stated, “I am a neo-Nazi”, he wasn’t flagged at all. All of this is to show that minority creators on Tiktok, featuring books or not, are susceptible to the biases implemented by this platform.
Anyways. Let’s move on to the money/country privilege.
Popular bookstagram accounts usually rely on several consistent elements. One of those is props. Others include good lighting, unique shots, good editing, and often a lot of books. People who can’t afford to buy a bunch of books are already at a disadvantage when it comes to the world of bookstagram because it is so often a place saturated with high expectations. Oh, you featured the same book only a few photos apart? Your account isn’t as good as others. The sad irony of it all is that people who are already well-known bookstagrammers get a lot of books for free (which they do deserve for all of their hard work!). However, that means that those who are just starting out can feel overwhelmed and pressured to have amazing shelves packed full of the latest books. Someone who wants to start a bookstagram might have to spend some money on props. If they have money to spend on props, they also have to think about buying new books. Constantly buying new books and props is not feasible for more people than you’d think.
TikTok too is interesting. A lot of videos that go viral feature bookstores. People in other countries don’t always have access to grand bookstores like those of us in the US and UK do. In fact, due to the current supply chain issues, sometimes creators in other countries don’t even get to own the books they want to promote, which are going viral. I feel like TikTok often features the same exact books over and over again, leaving no room for marginalized voices to promote diverse books. How can they, when half the time the books aren’t even readily available to them? How can they promote diverse books if the focus is specifically on white authors?
I don’t have anything against Booktok (I do in fact make the occasional video) but one thing that makes me upset is that the space really has the power to bring a book up through the ranks. That’s great, except the majority of the books are by white authors. For example, I like We Were Liars by E. Lockhart! It was my first time experiencing a certain twist! But why is it rising in the NYT Bestseller list, taking the spot of a rightfully earned place by an author who is finally getting their voice published in a diverse book? Why is a random book by a white author from seven years ago getting to flourish above newly published books that desperately need the boost? Tiktok, friends. Tiktok. How are POC creators in the book community supposed to make a book go viral if the same books by Colleen Hoover and Sarah J. Maas are in every other top video?
I love both Instagram and Booktok for the creative prowess people exhibit there and for the chances both platforms give to so many books and authors. However, this does beg the question: are the platforms accessible to new creators, specifically those who are POC, poor, international, and who might just want to promote diverse books? In my opinion, I think that the answer is no. If you’re not following the popularity bandwagon that both the algorithms and big accounts have set forth, it’s hard to carve out your own niche. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible though! And I sincerely respect and applaud every single creator who takes their time and effort on these platforms to spread their love for reading. Anyways, what are your thoughts on this? Do you agree or disagree? Let’s discuss!