It’s not always easy keeping up with emerging acronyms and new jargon that goes viral on social platforms.
Often, words are given new meaning and the latest is “mascara”, which no longer refers to that bristled brush that enhances your eyelashes. The word has taken on a whole new meaning on TikTok, which has a language of its own: “Aglospeak”.
“Mascara” refers to someone’s romantic partner and is being used with the hashtag #MascaraTrend as code to describe relationships.
As an example, one TikToker joked: “My mascara stuck its wand in another tube.”
Another said: “The one mascara I ever really liked ended up damaging my eyelashes really badly so now I’m too scared to try any new mascaras because I can’t take my eyelashes being damaged again.”
Some users have begun using the trend to discuss their experiences with sexual assault.
“When I was 20 & pregnant, I was forced to wear mascara for three hours straight. Now I get vivid flashbacks when I see similar brands,” reads one example.
#MascaraTrend currently has more than 100 million views, and it recently gained further traction due to an online blunder by actress and influencer Julia Fox.
One user shared a video describing that he “gave this one girl mascara one time and it must’ve been so good that she decided that her and her friend should both try it without my consent.” Fox believed that he was referring to makeup and commented: “Idk why but I don’t feel bad for u lol.”
The reply read: “You don’t feel bad that I was sexually assaulted?”
The backlash was swift and led the confused Fox to issue an apology, having misread the TikToker’s reference and not knowing it was code for sexual assault.
What is Aglospeak?
The term “Algospeak” (algorithm-speak) is fairly recent but the practice of avoiding content moderation isn’t anything new.
It has been around for a while, previously known as “Voldemorting” - a term referring to Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, who is often referred to as “you know who” or “he who must not be named”.
Beyond “mascara”, “seggs” and “unalive”, here’s a quick and non-exhaustive guide of the words used to bypass censorship on social media:
- Corn: Porn industry
- Cornucopia: Homophobia
- Camping: Abortion
- Dollar bean: Lesbian
- Knitting: Abortion
- Leg Booty: Member of the LGBTQ community
- Lipgloss: Women
- Ninja: Hate speech towards the Black community
- Ouid: Weed
- Panini / Panorama / Panoramic: Pandemic
- S.A.: Sexual Assault
- Seggs : Sex
- Unalive : Suicide
- The Vid (or Backstreet Boys reunion tour): COVID-19
The term "Camping" saw its use spike last year, in the wake of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe V Wade.
Many turned to TikTok to try and offer help to those in states where abortion has become illegal. In order to avoid any censorship, the pro-choice community didn't use the word "abortion" and opted for coded language like "going camping" or "learn to knit".
A problematic tool for free speech?
The necessity for codes and evasive tactics stems from the desire to avoid algorithmic censors and TikToks’ constant down-ranking of topics relating to women’s health and issues relating to race, for instance.
The platform is known for its scattershot moderation and its use of algorithms which censor content containing certain words and phrases. Users therefore have to stay one step ahead with code words or symbols to replace common words like “period” or “vagina”.
However, as the recent Julia Fox example shows, misunderstandings, confusion and worse, exclusion, can occur for those who aren’t au fait with the context.
Many users have also highlighted how TikTok flags certain videos as inappropriate and contributes to stigma around LGBTQ+ identities by banning certain hashtags.
The mascara trend is emblematic of a wider issue surrounding censorship which makes the sharing of supporting information difficult; codes provide a way for survivors to deal with emotions and potentially reach out for support.
However, while the dodging of TikTok’s strict regulations can be seen as a powerful tool to dodge false information and raise awareness of sexual assault, for instance, slang can isolate others or potentially trivialize certain topics. There is also a case to made that TikTok may not to be best medium to share traumatic experiences that require empathy and sensitivity.
TikTok is undoubtedly changing the way its users communicate and there is an urgent need for better moderation to avoid confusion. Survivors of abuse need the freedom to communicate and share, and code words – even if necessary under repressive social media guidelines – may inadvertently backfire to further isolate victims or generate controversy.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault or domestic abuse, we encourage you to reach out for support. The European Union has established an EU-wide helpline number to end violence against man and women worldwide. The common EU helpline number for victims of violence against women is: 116 016.