TikTok has become a way for Gen Z to express and share their political views with the world
In June 2020, TikTok made a strong statement when the platform reportedly pranked the President of the United States. President Trump was holding a rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Okla. The campaign stated that over 1 million people expressed interest in coming to the rally, but only about 6, 200 people showed up to a stadium that was able to seat 19,000 people.
The media soon announced that TikTok may have been the reason for the low turnout. Multiple creators had made videos telling people to register for free tickets to the rally using a phone number but then did not show up.
It is important to note that there might have been other factors such as protestors at the entrance and the fear of Covid-19 that may have kept people from attending the Trump rally. However, TikToker Mary Jo Laupp posted a video encouraging people to reserve tickets, and based on her comments; she was responsible for at least 17,000 tickets alone. With the combined work of many other TikTokers and Twitter users, it is clear that TikTok had some part in what happened.
TikTok has proved that it has the ability to unify a large group of people. Because of this ability, teens have begun to take pride in what they can achieve together, often saying in the comment section of a video things like “Gen Z is going to save the world,” or “I love our generation.”
Trump sent these teens into a panic when he announced in August that he was going to ban TikTok in the U.S., due to concerns that the China-based app was giving user data to the Chinese government. The matter is stuck in court for now while TikTok is working on a deal with the American companies Oracle and Walmart for partial ownership to satisfy Trump’s concerns.
TikTok: The future of democracy
With over 100 million users, TikTok has exploded in the last two years. The platform’s explosion in popularity has done this by marketing on websites and apps that target Gen Z, and it has become a safe haven for them to express their opinions. Through this, Tik Tok has become a political platform.
TikTok’s audience mostly consists of 10–19-year-olds, many of whom have become politically active on the platform by creating videos to endorse candidates. For example, a large group of famous TikTokers created an account called TikTok for Biden where they posted videos encouraging people to vote for Biden. Similar groups were created for conservatives as well.
TikTok is unique from other social media platforms because of its focus on short videos. Political content ranges from comedy and straight-forward facts to moving high-quality cinematography. This diversity allows everyone to find someone they like to teach and update them on politics.
“It’s good to inform [our generation] because we are future voters and the new voters in today’s day and age. Since we are new voters, I think it’s important that we as a generation really listen and learn because we have barely started to learn our own sense of independence,” said Thomas Chau, a sophomore psychology major.
Chau points out that the algorithm of TikTok shows the user videos that they like and interact with. This means that the videos that individuals watch normally coincide with their political views. However, because the algorithm of TikTok also shows users the content that the people they follow interact with, they get to see content at the opposite end of the political spectrum as well.
Many believe that this is still not enough to prevent users from burying themselves in their own political echo chambers.
“There’s relatively little cross-cutting political talk (i.e. across partisan lines, with politically heterogeneous others). And when it does happen, it’s not very productive. It’s still a very polarized discussion”, said Ioana Literat, an assistant professor of communication and media at Teachers College, Columbia University.
A few months ago, a TikTok trend urged content creators to post pictures of their followers and which presidential candidate they voted for in Instagram polls.
As a result, users began commenting on the looks of those followers, complementing those with whom they agreed and insulting those with whom they did not. There have been multiple trends like this in which people make fun of someone’s appearance based on their political views on the platform.
Another concern is that Gen Z falls prey to misinformation, according to Literat. This kind of information can easily spread on TikTok because of the algorithm. TikTok differs from other social media sites in that it often puts small creators on the explore page, making it easier for anyone to go viral.
The 2020 election saw a record high number of Gen Z voters. This could be attributed to this age group’s exposure to politics on TikTok, as big creators continually reminded their audience to vote.
While TikTok continues to reshape political participation in the United States, it is also doing so around the globe.
“I’m struck by how these same hashtags are also used by people from outside the U.S. to support the Black Lives Matter movement and also connect it to localized instances of racism and anti-government protest,” says Dr. Kligler-Vilenchik, an assistant professor of communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
TikTok has proven that it has the ability to enact worldwide change. Now, it is up to Gen Z to use this power positively and informatively, lest they confirm society’s fear that young people are too naive to participate in politics.