Why Trump fans are appearing in your TikTok feed

TikTok video and election influence

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People on TikTok are talking politics ahead of the 2020 United States election. 

James Martin/CNET

This story belongs to Elections 2020, CNET’s protection of the run-up to ballot in November.

TikTok users have actually broken out dance relocations, sharpened their funny chops and showcased pranking abilities in wacky 15-2nd videos set to music. Now, as the United States governmental project continues to warm up with Wednesday’s Democratic main governmental dispute, they’re filling the strangely addicting app with political viewpoints, too.


TikTok user Lillith Ashworth utilizes a stick of antiperspirant as a mock mic as she discusses the Democratic governmental prospect Joe Biden. 

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

In an October video, TikTok user @lillithashworth speaks into a stick of antiperspirant as if it were a microphone while critiquing Democratic governmental prospects, whose images turn up behind her. “I do not understand who took Uncle Joe out [of] the retirement home,” she states, describing previous Vice President Joe Biden, “but they need to put him back.” The video, published after last month’s dispute, has more than 2 million views. 

Lillith Ashworth, the 18-year-old University of Michigan trainee who made the video, was captured off guard by the response. “A lot of people don’t agree with me,” stated Ashworth, who has 26,000 fans and assistances Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’m fine with that because I’d rather have a platform which is geared towards younger people talking about politics.”

Known for silly lip-sync and dance videos, TikTok has silently end up being a center for political messaging over the previous numerous months. Videos supporting President Donald Trump or among the Democratic competitors turn up routinely, sandwiched in between costume modification videos set to CG5’s Absolutely Anything and dance-offs at Walmart to Lizzo’s Water Me. So do more comprehensive social commentaries that bait liberals or slam conservatives. The bite-size political messages, which can run as long as a minute however are typically much shorter, seem appearing more regularly as the impeachment questions and election advancements overwhelm the news cycle. 

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, where prospects typically have main accounts, nearly all the political videos on TikTok are produced by users. Pro-Trump messages control, and videos bearing the #trump2020 hashtag have actually produced more than 257 million views, surpassing hashtags describing Democratic governmental prospects, consisting of Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Trump hashtag has actually likewise gathered more views than #politics, which has 160 million, or #elections with 13 million views. 

Reaching young citizens

The spike in political videos, much of which scream dispute, clashes with TikTok’s self-stated objective to “inspire creativity and bring joy.” TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, does not accept political advertisements and has actually been implicated of censoring speech vital of the Chinese federal government. It rejects the claims. (The app, which is apparently being examined by the United States federal government on nationwide security premises, has actually been utilized by terrorist groups to target teenagers.)


Will TikTok end up being the social networks website to catch young citizens?

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Some news outlets have actually discovered political false information on TikTok, which is growing at a fast lane and just recently passed 1.5 billion downloads. A representative stated the business does not see a great deal of incorrect material published and might get rid of an account or material that “harms, defrauds, or misleads other users.” The business hasn’t approximated just how much political material is on the platform.

Unlike at other social media networks, finest practices for TikTok have not been developed. That suggests projects thinking about experiments simply put video deal with a high knowing curve. Boiling intricate concerns into music-driven messages may show challenging, professionals state. Instead of doing it themselves, prospects may lean on influencers with big followings to publish about their projects or a specific concern.

“It’s a huge hill to climb and people aren’t sure whether it’s going to be worth it,” stated Kevin Singer, a senior account executive with Rally, an issue-driven interactions company.

The Trump, Warren, Sanders and Biden projects didn’t react to concerns about TikTok.

It’s uncertain the number of of TikTok’s users are signed up citizens, however its fast lane and ease of usage make it an appealing location for youths to talk politics and nationwide concerns. In 2020, one in 10 qualified citizens will be in between the ages 18 to 23, members of a group commonly referred to as Gen Z, according to the Pew Research Center.

John Della Volpe, director of ballot at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, stated political TikTok videos might be a “kickstarter” to more extensive discussions.  “As many different ways in which we can talk about the relevancy of politics, the better, as far as I’m concerned,” stated Volpe, who research studies American youth and politics. 

TikTok’s audience is smaller sized than those of Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, however it’s growing rapidly. As of August, TikTok had 17.6 million United States distinct mobile visitors aged 18 and older, more than double a year previously, according to an eMarketer report, pointing out information from Comscore. 

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Campaigns experiment

Not all candidates have shunned TikTok. Andrew Yang has used the short videos to push his plans for a $1,000 a month universal basic income, phasing out the penny and providing health insurance for all Americans. The Yang campaign’s TikTok presence, run from the @andrewyang_2020 account, is designed to appeal to the candidate’s often youthful supporters.


A TikTok video by Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign. 

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

In one video, a staffer wearing a campaign T-shirt and cap bearing Yang’s MATH slogan — the acronym stands for Make America Think Harder — slowly turns as he holds a bumper sticker reading “Yang2020.” A legend appearing in the video reads, “Andrew Yang Supporter. Only wears MATH attire. Uses Yang as a verb. Already knows what to spend 1k/month on. Hates pennies.”

S.Y. Lee, Yang’s national press secretary, said the videos are part of the campaign’s attempt to reach possible voters wherever they are. 

“We’re constantly exploring ways to reach new audiences,” Lee said in an email. “We’re still looking at TikTok.”

Yang’s campaign also worked with The Washington Post, which has more than 200,000 TikTok followers. In a video, Yang dances to the song We Did It! from the animated TV series Dora The Explorer. The video, which has more than 2 million views, features text reading, “still polling at 3%.” 

Presidential candidate Julian Castro’s campaign also has a TikTok account. The account, @teamjulian2020, has more than 470 followers and features videos of his staffer donning a T-shirt that reads “Adios Trump.” Castro’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment

Trump videos

Still, Trump is TikTok’s political champ. Videos about the president take all forms. One features a pumpkin-shaped cookie of the president, another displays a Trump doll with orange hair and still another depicts the commander-in-chief as an Oompa Loompa. In one, Trump is built out of Legos.


Videos with #trump2020 have more than 256 million views on TikTok. 

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

In another video, President Trump appears to sing Señorita by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello to a carefully edited montage of snippets of his speeches. The song is an unlikely choice for Trump, given that Cabello, a Cuban-American singer, has spoken out against the president’s immigration policies. “It felt like ooh la la la, yeah,” Trump appears to croon in the video, which was posted by @dustinthedad and bears the legend “TRUMP2020.” It’s racked up 4 million views. (@dustinthedad didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Digital strategists say the popularity of Trump videos reflects TikTok’s algorithm, which rewards content that generates strong reactions, as well as the simple reality that the 2020 election will be a referendum on the Trump presidency.

“Trump content does well on TikTok for the same reason that it does well on other social platforms,” Laura Olin, a digital strategist who worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, said in an email. “His brand of reality-show outrageousness is a perfect fit for social media platforms.”

Ashworth, the Michigan student, said her video on the Democratic candidates spread quickly, eventually getting picked up by conservative pages on Instagram. She also received a “little bit of harassment” from users upset when they found out she wasn’t a conservative. 

The teenager, who will vote for the first time in the 2020 election, has also posted TikTok videos about Republican presidential candidates, Sanders and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the race on Nov. 1.  

As the 2020 election draws closer, she plans to share more of her political views on TikTok. 

“When major events occur during the election cycle, I’ll definitely post and I’ll see how much I like doing that,” Ashworth said. “Sites like TikTok are going to be where political conversations are going to be pushed towards.”

This story published on Nov. 19 at 5 a.m. PT.

Updated, 5:01 a.m. PT on Nov. 20.

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