Black influencers vs. the social media wealth inequality
Updated: May 2
By Eternity Hunter
TikTok's 15-second videos seized the world by storm in 2020. With dances, creative material, and popular music. TikTok has swiftly risen to prominence as one of the most popular social media apps. In 2020 and 2021, TikTok became the most downloaded app globally.
With TikTok challenges such as "The Renegade" and popular songs like Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage," many sounds, trends, and challenges originate from a Black creator, artist, or influencer.
TikTok is not the only social media app to gain popularity on the backs of Black people and Black culture. Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter benefit from Black vernacular and culture. What would Twitter be without its "Black Twitter" memes?
Black creators are a driving force for social media apps, but achieving high-level influencer status is complicated.
According to a study conducted by MSL, a global PR firm, just 23% of Black influencers are macro-influencers (50K+ followers), compared to 41% of white influencers.
A creator can earn $100,000 or more as a macro-influencer, yet white creators are two times more likely to make it into that tier.
Forbes published the “Top-Earning TikTok-ers of 2022”, revealing that collectively they made $55.5 million. To the surprise of many, Not a single Black TikTok creator made the Forbes list.
Creators like Khaby Lame(132.1M Followers) have nearly the same followers as Charlie D'Amelio( 136.2M Followers) –– Forbes’ top earner. Yet Lame was unable to secure a spot on the list. So if Black creators are going tic for tat with followers and engagement rates, why aren't Black creators earning the same amount as their counterparts?
Part of the answer stems from sponsored content. Forbes noted that 30% to 50% of the top 5 TikTok-ers earnings were made by sponsored content. For influencers like the D'Amelios, a single sponsored post could range anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000
Many Black TikTok users are dissatisfied with the Forbes list and believe that while Black TikTok creators work hard to build and maintain their brand, they have been unfairly pushed to the side and ignored.
It's clear from a media stance that pay inequality among white and Black creators has infiltrated the influencer industry.
The racial pay gap
The TikTok Creator Fund was made to give TikTok creators income from views and engagement. The amount of funds each creator receives is dependent on several factors, including likes, views, and making sure the content aligns with TikTok community guidelines.
To reward creators, TikTok committed over $250 million to the Creator Fund in 2021, but the real question is how equitable is the money being distributed? Because for most Black TikToker-ers, the money does seem to be adding up.
As it stands, the average Black TikTok-er does not even make enough to survive. Creator Anja Braun in one year, made roughly $1,000 for her entire year of content making - which added up to about 15 videos a day.
“That is obviously not a lot of money,” Braun said of her annual take. “Nobody can live off $1,000 over a year. The pay disparity makes Black creators question whether the Creator Fund is worth the effort. It's "literally cents per 1000s of views" for Black creators' effort and time.
The MLS report noted that “a remarkable” 77% of Black influencers reported follower counts in the lowest pay tiers, where the average brand compensation averaged just $27,727.90.
Compare that to the top five TikTok-ers of 2021, who Forbes reported collectively made over $55 million, and that $28,000 is embarrassingly low.
“Their [top five TikTok-er’s] Creator Fund got to have some magic or something. To be that different, right, there is a large reason as to why I'm worth way more than what Tiktok can offer me,” says Black Creator Keni White (@shadowbannedkween_).
And most of that $55 million is coming from sponsorships, Forbes reported. Sponsorships from places like Amazon, Revolve, Google and other big corporations.
But for most Black creators who haven't spent the last decade building a following like @JackieAina or subscribing to white audiences, brand deals come few and far between.
“I still don't get a ton of brand deals,” Braun says, “and when I do, I'm definitely not getting paid enough for them.”
So how do Black creators counteract the shortage of brand deals and the lack of pay that comes with it?
For Braun, it's as easy as saying,
"I don't do a promotion without compensation."
Braun allows her media kit and words to stand up for herself and know her worth. She isn't down for doing content just for a free item, especially when she knows that companies can and do offer compensation.
“I would say probably 80% of the emails that I get of brands reaching out are asking for gifted deals. It's not so uncommon, because they don't respect your time. it is very telling that they are obviously doing paid partnerships with other people.” Braun says
For creators like White, who create content for enjoyment, she is not worried about the brand deals.
“I genuinely love to help people, whether it's the person that made the audio or someone trying to grow their page. That's the whole point.” Even though White does this out of her love for helping people, if she is going to put a dollar amount on it, she should be “compensated correctly!”
But should Black creators be forced to advocate for themselves so hard or choose not to pursue content creation because brands don't want to pay Black people for their time and effort?
The racial pay gap goes deeper than Black TikTok-ers not getting paid for their content. For many Black TikTok-ers, the content they produce isn't even being seen due to content suppression.
Content suppression causes a massive problem for Black creators when creating content on Black issues (e.g., BLM and racism). According to the MSL report, when they wrote about these concerns, 59% of Black influencers felt financially harmed.
Black creators, who use TikTok as their platform, constantly are getting shadowbanned. TikTok creator @shadowbannedkween_’s username came from her getting shadowbanned so often.
"I still get shadowbanned till this day. Every time I think about changing, it happens."
If it's not getting shadowbanned for talking about race and injustice, it's the prepupal over-sexualization of Black women creators. The TikTok algorithm is a complex system with some deep-rooted flaws in what is considered a TikTok guideline volition.
"It's not uncommon for the big girls in general or just bigger girls or anyone who's curvy or has any sort of I will not say sex appeal, but I will say sexualized appeal, especially if they are a Black woman," Braun says. "That is a community guideline strike in itself."
So Black women are not only getting paid less when they talk about racial experiences, they are getting shadowbanned for just being Black and a woman.
The Forbes list of creators highlights creators including Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae. These white TikTok-ers have been under fire in the past for making dance videos that garnered huge exposure and revenue without crediting the original Black creator.
Addison Rae appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in March of 2021. She performed popular dance trends from TikTok, several of which originated from BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color).
Another example is Jalaiah Harmon, creator of "the Renegade," who did not receive credit for the dance till the New York Times created a story about her.
In the summer of 2021, the hashtag ‘BlackTikTokStrike’ went viral. Many Black TikTok creators went on strike, refusing to create any new dances until credit was given where credit was due. They were tired of not being credited for their work. TikTok saw the effects of the lack of Black creator participation.
Megan Thee Stallion's song, "Thot S***," for example, you'll see videos by Black creators calling out the lack of credit they receive and increasing awareness of the strike. In comparison, their white counterparts tried to make dance challenges that weren't hitting in the usual way.
Due to the strike, TikTok released their: One year later: Our commitment to diversity and inclusion. TikTok also launched the @blacktiktok page to highlight black creators and diversity.
But is that enough to make up for the years and millions of dollars Black creators have already missed out on?
The Addison Rae's of the world are not necessarily the problem. Because even if Dixie D’Amelio gives a Black creator credit. Marketing teams are still going to push the white creator to reach more audiences. It goes deeper than the influencers. It's the marketing team, media and entertainment, and talent companies.
Future of Black social media influencers
While some social media platforms are working to reform and change the pay gap, there is still much progress to be made. In 2021 Facebook launched a $25 million fund to promote Black procedures. Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram in 2020, wrote a statement about ensuring Black voices are heard. He stated
"This work is going to take some time, but we're going to provide updates over the next few months – both about what we learn and what we address. These efforts won't stop with the disparities people may experience solely on the basis of race."
TikTok launched its Black Creatives incubator program in January 2021, which focuses on promoting and devolving Black creators on the app. The program has a grant created with the multiplatform media company MARCO founded by CEO Charles D. King.
"The funds can be applied toward educational resources, production equipment, and other creative content development tools. MACRO will also advise on the selection of speakers, programming content, and professional and business-building opportunities for creators."
Black creatives such as @shadowbannedqueen hope that society
"Accepts the fact that Black creators are literally the bane of pop culture. And I hope they fix the way they even approach black creators."
Brands, too, must rise to the occasion. Brands must take accountability and fight for Black creatives to receive equal pay within their brand and publicly.
Black people are expected to be intelligent, funny, and creative with no expectation of compensation. It’s time to pay Black creators what they deserve, and it’s time to stop expecting excellence for free.