A quick look at some TikTok stats shows more than 38,000 posts under the hashtag #Autism, with more than 200 million views. The hashtag #ActuallyAutistic (which is used in the autism community to highlight content created by, and not about, autistic people) has more than 20,000 posts and 40 million views.
TikTok is one of the world’s leading social platforms, and has exploded in popularity at a time when other social media megaliths have struggled. It has become an important channel for expression for its young usership – and this has included giving autistic people a voice and community.
It’s a good start. In some ways TikTok has helped drive discussions around autism forward, and shift outsiders’ perspectives. But for real progress, we have to ensure “swipe up” environments aren’t the only spaces where autistic people are welcomed.
TikTok’s algorithm is highly curated to individual users. The app decides what videos to show a user based on: their previous interactions including which videos they watch, like and favourite; video information (such as captions and hashtags); and their device and account settings.
This means users will likely see their own perspectives and beliefs reflected back to them. Autistic people may begin to believe this is the only reality that exists, leading to the creation of a “false reality”.
On TikTok, autistic people see an idyllic world where everyone understands and embraces autism. We forget that outside our “echo chamber” there is a world of people living in their own echo chambers.
If we want to see genuine improvement, we have to make autism acceptance and inclusion a priority across public life. We could start by including more autistic voices in TV shows, movies, books and news, as well as more representation in leadership teams and among policy makers.