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TikTok hits the big time: The MLA Handbook has decided how to cite it in academic works

The social media powerhouse has grown in influence, and scholarly writers are relying on its videos and profiles. But proper citation still matters.

TikTok hits the big time: The MLA Handbook has decided how to cite it in academic works
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You’re writing a detailed exposition of the psychosocial impact of the TikTok Milk Crate Challenge, as compared to the all-encompassing ethos of communication methods in chivalric era Waddinxveen, and you need to cite examples.

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The Modern Language Association has got you covered.

The iconic MLA Handbook has added an entry for TikTok, so Noam Chomsky 2.0s, who need to cite videos from the social media powerhouse, can now do it properly.

The template aligns with the basic order of elements that MLA devotees use for other types of media: author (usually the account name), followed by title of the source element or a description of the material, platform name (in this case, TikTok), date of the post, and the URL.

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Here’s an example: Lilly [@uvisaa]. “[I]f u like dark academia there’s a good chance you’ve seen my tumblr #darkacademia.” TikTok, 2020, www.tiktok.com/@uvisaa/video/6815708894900391173.

Note that TikTok is italicized, just like the name of a publication would be.

According to the MLA, students, librarians, high school and college teachers, and writers submit questions on the organization’s website. A post about how to properly cite TikTok, published to the MLA website on August 4, was part of a series coordinated to publish after the release of the new ninth edition of the MLA Handbook and before the start of the fall semester. (The eighth edition was published in 2016, months before Douyin, what TikTok is called in China, launched.)

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“We answer questions that extend the guidelines in the MLA Handbook or that reflect trends in writers’ needs,” the organization’s editorial staff said in an email to Fast Company. “We do routinely get a lot of questions about citing the various social media platforms, and we saw that MLA Style Center posts on citing social media platforms are frequently read.”

Advice from instructors, librarians, and writers, along with the MLA Bible’s guideline fundamentals, influence how new style decisions are reached.

“Our system of citation is based on a flexible template and not on publication formats, so it can evolve and grow as new forms of digital publication emerge,” the MLA editors told Fast Company.

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The MLA Handbook was first published in 1977, an outgrowth of the MLA Style Sheet, which debuted in 1951 in an effort to create uniformity among scholarly manuscripts.

The move to resolve the TikTok Citation Challenge demonstrates how the hot platform has reached a tipping point in scholarship, according to Jennifer Grygiel, associate professor of communications at Syracuse University. “It’s a nod to the attention TikTok has generated,” they said. “It’s an established platform that’s being studied now by scholars, and scholars have had various citation methods developed, so other scholars can not just read the paper, but find the content. That’s increasingly complicated in this digital time, because there’s so much more content out there. TikTok has reached a certain threshold of interest.”