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Commentary: Beyond looking glam or aged, TikTok filters reshape how we tell our stories

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Of course, not all filters aim to seamlessly perfect facial features. TikTok’s massive range of filters not only include a wide variety of face alterations (everything from adding sun-kissed freckles to simulating lip injections), but can change anything imaginable: Skin, eyes, hair, makeup and yes, even age.

COAXED AFFORDANCES

When you create a video on TikTok, you are prompted to an editing screen where you can add voice filters, sounds, visual filters and more. The presence of this editing screen encourages creators to make use of the platform’s features.

These are called platform “affordances” and they are the fundamental things that influence how something can be used. Affordances allow, and often compel, users to share and interact in specific ways online.

On TikTok, affordances dictate how users interact with the platform and with each other. They are the “For You” page, the ability to like and comment, the ability to watch live videos and send creators gifts. They make the platform what it is.

Aimee Morrison, associate professor of language and literature at the University of Waterloo, says we need to consider the “prompts that coax and restrict user actions”, as they shape life stories online just as much as the people who make them. When we watch a TikTok that utilises filters as part of the storytelling, the filter becomes an integral part of the video and is so much more than simply a storytelling device.

On TikTok, filters are coaxed affordances. Trending filters are suggested to users (along with trending audio) to use when they make videos. This is a prompting action from the platform itself that encourage users to create in specific kinds of ways.

Of course, these filters do not function in isolation, and trending formats and audios also play a large role in the types of stories that are created.

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