TikTok's AI Meme Maker is fatphobic


TikTok’s AI Meme Maker is fatphobic

TikTok’s AI Meme Maker filter is biased against is fat people. 


Tricia Crimmins


In each edition of web_crawlr we have exclusive original content every day. On Tuesdays our IRL Reporter Tricia Crimmins breaks down the trends on the popular app that will make you cringe in her “Problematic on TikTok” column.  If you want to read columns like this before everyone else, subscribe to web_crawlr to get your daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in reporting this column over the past year, it’s that TikTok filters are the wild, wild west. TikTok filters have purported to guess people’s nationalities based on the way they look, guess users’ weight, and give TikToker’s big caricature-like noses.

We know that TikTok says all user-created filters are assessed by its Trust and Safety team, and any effects that violate the app’s policies are removed. But a lot of filters fall through the cracks because they’re only discriminatory or prejudiced toward a specific group of people. TikTok’s AI Meme Maker filter is one of those—and the group it’s biased against is fat people. 

Back in August, many fat TikTokers posted that when they used the AI Meme Maker filter by uploading a photo of themselves and allowing the filter to generate text about them, the filter disparaged them for their size and/or weight. One woman posted that after using a photo of herself as a prompt, the filter wrote “Wow, this quarantine has really messed up my summer body.” Another showed that the filter generated “When those skinny jeans finally rip at the seams.” Yet another posted that in response to a photo of her on a swing, the filter wrote “Finally, a swing that’s not broken by my weight.”

And that’s not even the half of it: Comments on all the TikToks say that the AI Meme Maker filter found other ways to fat-shame other users by putting them down using the phrase “summer body.” One TikToker even said that in response to a photo of her on a beach, the filter wrote “looks like we need a bigger beach here.”

It’s worth noting that the meme maker can be altered, you can type in your own meme after the text is generated. But Abby Morris (@morethantracyt), a performer whose TikTok videos focus on fat representation in media and online, called out the filter for its fatphobia specifically.

“They’re all just like fatphobia. Like, every single one,” Morris says of the memes created by the filter. “Sometimes when the person’s not even fat—but a lot of time’s when they are. And that is really sketching me out.”

Why it matters

We know full well by now that AI is biased and prejudiced because the world and society from which it learned is biased and prejudiced

But that’s no excuse: patterns of microaggressions against marginalized communities and/or bodies means we need to better regulate and more closely train AI to be in line with the society that we want to be living in—not the intolerant one we live in now.

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