KinkTok is Rife with Misinformation. Here's Why That's Dangerous.

  • Posted on
KinkTok is Rife with Misinformation. Here's Why That's Dangerous.

TikTok is having its '50 Shades' era, for better or worse.

One day on TikTok, sex and kink educator Sunny Megatron kept hearing that in order to participate in a kink called CNC — consensual non-consent — one must give up having a safe word, a prearranged signal to interrupt a BDSM scene.


"I was horrified," said Megatron. Not only is that not true about CNC, but giving up all consent is assault. Confused, she googled and found a Psychology Today(Opens in a new window) article on CNC where the subheading is, "Giving up the ability to use a safe word in kinky encounters."


"Word for word, that's what people [were] relaying on TikTok," Megatron said.


Megatron and the other kink educators have seen creators spread misinformation such as this on the app. False information is a widespread problem on the internet generally, but on KinkTok — the TikTok kink community — it holds a particularly dangerous weight, as it takes a lot more time than a minute-long video to properly teach hard skills (like bondage) and soft skills (like consent).


Considering there are few spaces for aspiring kinksters to learn the figurative and literal ropes, KinkTok is a unique community — with several faults.



How misinformation spreads on KinkTok

"I look at KinkTok as sort of like when we had the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon," Megatron said, referring to the popular franchise that falsely represented some aspects of kink. 


There is good in the comparison: KinkTok is normalizing talk about kink, and getting the conversation going. Beyond that, however, there's lots of room for misinformation, skewed representation, and danger — such as teaching skills that should be taught in a physical class. 


Part of this is due to who gets pushed to For You pages — and thus gets thousands upon millions of followers — according to the TikTok algorithm.


"Who's getting the followers…who has the very large accounts?" asked kink educator Phrygian Monk. "Oftentimes it is white cis people, and that's partially the algorithm on TikTok, but also partially who people see as kinky."


KinkTokkers agreed that the app pushes white, conventionally attractive creators who post, as Megatron put it, "hyper sexualized thirst traps, but just hyper sexualized in a way that's suitable for the terms of service."


"It's not necessarily the people who have the most helpful information that are pushed out to the algorithm," she continued. "It's the people with the popularity — and that gives the air of credibility." Those popular creators who may not be credible are seen side-by-side with experienced educators.


A spokesperson for TikTok pointed to the app's Community Guidelines, which states that "overtly sexualized content" may not be eligible to be recommended for users' For You pages. "This would include content that depicts implied nudity, sexualizes body parts, or is blatantly erotic or sensual (e.g., strip teases)," the guidelines state. A blog post titled "Strengthening enforcement of sexually suggestive content,"(Opens in a new window) states that "borderline" or "suggestive" content is ineligible to be pushed to For You pages.


TikTok did not pass along comment specific to KinkTok. The app, however, has a history of removing educational content that is sexual in nature. "Vanilla" sex educators and pelvic floor physical therapists are among those to say TikTok removed their content.


It's not just concepts, like consensual non-consent, that get muddled on the platform either. It's physical skills, too.


"It's not actually ethical to teach physical technique on TikTok," said Veronika Kestrel, a kink educator and dominatrix, due to safety concerns. "But people do it."


"Some of this stuff is actually harmful. Some of it is physically dangerous," she said.


An example she described is a trend of wrapping a belt around your wrists. "[This] can cause nerve-damage," Kestrel said. "But it's sexy, so it works" for those creators who pump out content for views. Indeed, "belt handcuff tutorial" videos have nearly 17 million views on TikTok.


Kink educator DawnSparkles recalled seeing someone teach strappados, an intense armbinding tie, in a one-minute video without any of the required safety measures. "Very dangerous stuff," they said. They joined the platform because they saw a lack of kink education that was helpful, informative, and safety-oriented.


There's also misinformation that stems from a place of not knowing the history of the queer community and kink specifically, said educator Pup Amp. While not causing imminent physical danger like the belt "handcuffs," it can still cause harm.


Amp described an instance of a young person wrongly explaining that the hanky code — an undercover way queer people displayed what kinks they were into — was no longer used, and so it should be a way for queer kids to find safe spaces. The former statement is false; considering the rising conservative backlash against the LGBTQ community, particularly calling LGBTQ people "groomers," the latter suggestion is not only misinformed, but it could be harmful.



Tied to the TikTok algorithm

Another issue faced by KinkTokkers is the removal of content and sometimes accounts, especially if the creator is a person of color or a part of the LGBTQ community. "There's a reason why we have to use coded language for everything that we say," said Kestrel, referring to phrases like "seggs" as sex (used in KinkTok and beyond) and replacing letters with numbers or punctuation to avoid getting flagged.


That chance of getting work taken down increases drastically if you're a marginalized person, according to creators. "They [TikTok] allow communities of racists and misogynists and bigots to use their reporting system to mass spike(Opens in a new window) your content simply for existing," said Kestrel, who is trans. After her content was mass-reported, TikTok banned her account.


"Because of mass flagging and specific targeting of my platform, [TikTok] now just deleted hundreds of hours of my work," she said. TikTok has since reinstated her account.


Sexy content grabs people's attention, and attention is exactly what TikTok wants. But smaller creators, especially POC and queer ones, say they can't make even vaguely sexy content without it getting removed. Even if it's not removed, they said it's suppressed from FYPs.


For years, Black creators have said the app is anti-Black for not recommending their content to For You Pages, and for fostering a system where non-Black creators profit from their work. They've also accused TikTok of suppressing their content.


"It can be a bit draining at times, especially if you're fighting the algorithm to make sure the people who follow you can see your content," said DawnSparkles, who is Black and nonbinary, "and then also dealing with trolls and other problematic behaviors because of the nature of social media."


"My views are consistently very low for the amount of followers I have," said Phrygian Monk, who is Black and nonbinary, "and that's just something I've kind of come to accept." They've had a couple videos taken down by TikTok, but guessed that they've been spared more than other creators because of their academic approach.



Better diversity, better access

Despite the bad, there are good things about KinkTok. Kestrel believes that the community doesn't get enough credit for the array of voices you can hear on the platform — if you can find them. When Kestrel first got on TikTok, she was horrified by the misinformation and ignorance. She wondered if anyone was pushing back — and there was. She came across Phrygian Monk, who was doing a series about how to approach race in kink ethically. 


"I felt inspired," she said. "Here is a person who is putting their voice out there to have conversations about ethical kink." She started posting videos soon after.


"The discourse exists, you just have to find it," she said. "There are people there who want to facilitate an actual learning environment on this platform. They're just not the biggest creators out there."


Another positive is access. Kink information isn't widespread; pre-internet, you had to "know someone" to learn about the lifestyle.


While ethical education does exist on TikTok, all the creators agree that one's kink education can't start and end on the platform. Megatron advises to take advice with a grain of salt; what someone says may just be how they do things. 



Red flags to look out for on KinkTok:

Learn to vet where your information is coming from, like vetting news sources. Does the kink educator have years of experience, teach courses IRL, or work at a sex club or dungeon?


Here are some red flags you may see from creators, according to Megatron: If they speak in absolutes (always or nevers); if they don't ever recommend that you listen to other educators; if they can't admit when they're wrong or learned something new. Further, watch how they take criticism — how do they react? Are they lashing back or taking it in? Asking yourself these questions can help evaluate who you're listening to.


Further, expand your education into the in-person realm. By taking classes, for instance, you can learn hard skills with an expert and spend time learning about anatomy and safety. If you're having trouble finding real-life events, try the kink platform FetLife — but, as with all social media sites, be cautious. 


"FetLife is great for finding out where events are in your area," Megatron said. "But don't put up a profile photo," she warned. "Don't put up any identifying information on your profile or pictures or whatever. Don't answer DMs, don't try to meet people off FetLife because odds are — especially if you are a submissive woman or femme or AFAB [assigned female at birth] person — you're gonna get a bunch of predators in your inbox."


In terms of finding community events, however, FetLife could be a good resource to find a munch (a social event at a restaurant) or slosh (a social event at a bar).


Other than FetLife, search for potential sex clubs where you live. They might conduct "vanilla" social events outside of their parties, or provide workshops for kinky education.


For online education outside of TikTok, check out Zipper Magazine, where Megatron is the editor-in-chief. There are also sites dedicated to NSFW educational videos, such Beducated or sex educator Kenneth Play's course.


Remember that education is ongoing. You're not going to take one rope class and know everything you need to know, for example. Stay open and curious — about what you can learn and what you might be interested in.


"This whole lifestyle is this long journey that you go through of self discovery, and you're gonna find out some crazy things about yourself," Kestrel said. "But it is worth knowing, even if only a few select people ever get to see you in that light, it is worth knowing."



Written by: Anna Iovine on Mashable