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Implicit cultural norms and accessible social media

Implicit cultural norms and accessible social media have come up in conversation a few times with different groups in the past week, so I want to talk about it.

Explicit norms are the parameters the social media platform sets for you. Tweets are predominately text and images, Instagram is images and video, etc.

All major social media platforms allow their users to provide alternate descriptions for their uploaded image content.

Alternate descriptions are incredibly important. They allow people who can’t see the images to be able to understand, and importantly, participate. Unfortunately, most social media platform bury the ability to add alternate descriptions deep in their submenus. Twitter and Instagram are two of the worst offenders, in my opinion.

But we’re not here to dunk on Twitter product. We’re here to talk about TikTok. I’d also like to say that I’m talking about TikTok users, and not TikTok the company—TikTok the company is incredibly problematic when it comes to disability.

On TikTok, the UI allows you to add captions to your video. There’s a decent amount of customization options, as well. This allows the user to personalize their video and reinforce the mood they’re trying to create. The UI for captioning is also top-level UI. It is not tucked away under some digital rug.

This explicit, top-level UI leads to a really good implicit cultural norm: successful videos get captioned.

By this, I mean more often than not viral videos have some degree of captioning, and viral videos are modeled by people seeking to also go viral. By the same token, it is understood that unsuccessful videos don’t have captions. Implicit culture. Then you factor in what content is algorithmically boosted and things get really interesting.

I’d also like to say the ripple effects of this are really good. I include alt descriptions in my tweeted images, but I’m also really boring. Should low vision Twitter users have to only follow accessibility practitioners because chances are better that they can participate? No, that’s awful and limiting.

You can’t create a more accessible social media platform just on appeal to empathy alone. In fact, some users will specifically not use these features for that reason. You need to remove artificial friction and let the community model the success you want to see.

I think implicitly accessible social media culture is really interesting and important thing, and it’s something I hope more social media platforms pay attention to.