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When Social Media Platforms Decide Who Is Vulnerable

    Being treated equally and with dignity no matter what the circumstances are is a fundamental human right. So, is the right to free speech. However, what if a social media platform takes it upon themselves to decide who needs protection from cyberbullies and then proceeds to block them?

     Jess Quinn responds to TikTok for shadow banning her due to her perceived vulnerability.

    Image Credit: Jess Quinn/Instagram

    This is what happened to Jess Quinn, a 27-year-old lower limb amputee, model, and body positivity activist. In late 2019, the New Zealander lashed out at video-based social media network TikTok for shadow banning her videos because she was deemed susceptible to bullying. Shadow banning is done by social media networks to block users subtly. It won't be immediately apparent to them that they or their comments have been blocked.     

    As a response, Quinn posted a video of her dancing while wearing a hoodie with the words "all bodies welcome here." The slogan was a clear message for TikTok. 



    She also posted the video on her Instagram account with the following caption:

    "I hear you have shadow banned videos by 'disabled, fat, or LGBTQ+' users because they're 'vulnerable to bullying if their videos reach a wide audience.' Well, on behalf of those people, the only bullying is your exclusion of people who you believe are 'vulnerable.' I thought I'd add a little video to your app of my 'vulnerable' self, wearing a sweatshirt that says ALL BODIES WELCOME HERE while removing one of my body parts."

    Quinn lost her right leg to cancer at the age of nine. In a separate Instagram post, Quinn wrote that she remembered telling her teenage self that she needs to "stop hiding the body" she fought "so hard to live in."

    TikTok responded through a spokeswoman on "This was never designed to be a long-term solution, but rather a way to help manage a troubling trend," she said. "While the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong. We want TikTok to be a space where users can freely express themselves, and we have long since changed the policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections."

    As of this writing, the social network clarified what these in-app protections are in a blog post on their website. They said that the user is in control of who can respond to their content. Users can block and report others as they see fit.

    According to Quinn, "vulnerable" people want to be treated like everyone else. Younger people who live with limb loss need to know that they have the same opportunities as any other person and shouldn't be afraid to take up space. 

    Do you think social media networks should have the power to choose which people need protection from bullying? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.