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Content and Consent: The TikTok approach

By March 22, 2020May 22nd, 2020No Comments

Fionnuala Jones on what it’s like to attend a consent workshop with Ireland’s biggest TikTokers

[Trigger warning: article contains reference to rape, sexual assault, consent]

It’s meditation time. We’re standing in a squircle (a loosely defined circle, if you will). A member of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s team brought us through a body scan. Now, Dave, the group facilitator, is saying words out loud, his inflection changing throughout.



Earlier this year, I was approached by Pluto about a campaign that they were working on with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC). At the time, the campaign was still in its planning phase, but two things were always going to be at the centre of it – consent and TikTok.

In a previous piece for rogue, I outlined how the video sharing app is taking over the country, producing superstars with hundreds of thousands of followers that you or I might walk past on the street. More crucially, it’s where young people are spending more and more time online – one analysis showed that 40% of its user base is under 20 years old, and a further 26% is under 30.

Who better to talk to this critical demographic than their peers – 18-year-olds who just happen to have amassed fan armies because of their dancing and lip syncing skills?

With that, 20 of the country’s leading TikTok creators, (with a combined following of 2.8M people) were picked to take part in a day-long workshop which focused on learning the foundations of consent, while brainstorming content that could bring the message of the campaign home to people. That message? ‘If it’s not 100 percent, it’s not consent’.

The day kicked off with simple introductions, in which we threw balls at each other while saying our names. Then, we threw it to the other person saying the other person’s name – a handy exercise there, should you be looking for one.

After we were comfortable, we got the rundown on what the campaign stands for. #100Consent focuses on clarity and communication, understanding that being even 1% unsure, when it comes to sexual consent, could have devastating consequences. It’s a gender neutral, orientation neutral campaign, acknowledging the nuanced relationships we have with ourselves and with other people. 

Sex happens when people are under the influence. Unfortunately, sometimes sex happens when people comply rather than consent. Previous campaigns have laid the burden of consent at the feet of straight males, with the stick of accusation or prosecution (though it rarely ever gets to that) waved in their faces. 

#100Consent is about checking in with yourself and the other person – are you ok with this? Am I ok with this? Is this comfortable for us both? 

Personally, I received no formal sex education. I knew the biology of things from school and learned the fundamentals from porn (or so I thought). I missed the wave of consent workshops and discussions that dominate the conversation on college campuses now.

Back to the workshop, and the various exercises we got up to. We wrote out slang words for sex on pieces of paper, scrunched them up and threw them at each other. We discussed how the digital age has made it harder for young people. It has sped up the stages of consent – from initially checking someone out, to flirting, to messaging, to actually getting together. The differences between consent, compliance, coercion and force were discussed in a way that was relaxed and informal.

After lunch, it was feedback time. Caitriona Freir, youth programmes coordinator with the DRCC, briefed us on the campaign, as did Jane Casey and Cormac McCann from Pluto. We were asked, “would you let your dad read your DMs?” “Would you let your mates write your dating profile?” “Would you go out-out before the night of your final exam?” For the most part, the answer to all was a resounding “no”.

Everyone asked good questions and like knots in a back, we worked through them. Why hasn’t sex education been reformed in schools? Freir explained that she’s been knocking on the government’s door for a long time about implementing reform across schools. Why is the concept of consent taught in a way that makes it seem negative and scary? How could they incorporate this message into their normal content without it looking jarring to their young audience?

I sympathised with them and their concerns about not being taken seriously by their followers, but assured them that they are in a privileged position to be able to wield so much influence – if they’ll gleefully copy choreography from a random girl down in Kerry, you can be rest assured that they’ll listen to what she has to say.

After this, the TikTokers were eager to get to work, crafting the first video that would kick off their contribution to the campaign. They banded together, holding slogans at the camera, brought together with slick transitions. The energy in the room was indescribable as the cogs turned in everyone’s head.

I kept thinking about my time as a teenager. I spent a lot of time getting into precarious sexual encounters that would fall into the category that #100Consent is looking to highlight. I spent my time in college speaking about boys and girls derogatorily, full to the brim with internalised misogyny, placing value on looks and body counts. 

I would have killed to have had a campaign like #100Consent to act as my compass, to stop me complying in situations where I didn’t need to, to help me understand that me kissing someone in a club doesn’t mean I’m leading them on.

In all my time as a (reluctant) influencer, this was the first time where I felt like I’d contributed to something meaningful, something that would have impact, something that mattered. I’m hoping to continue my work with the DRCC by joining their youth advisory panel – because, as I’ve said in every interview since the start, the conversation around consent must continue, whether you’re doing the dishes, the renegade dance, or your makeup.

Main image from Lonely Lingerie


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