Teens turn to TikTok to boost Biden
Teens and first-time voters are creating grassroots groups and political action committees aimed at reaching their peers where they are — TikTok.
Groups run by college students and recent high school graduates are creating memes and videos on the widely popular video-sharing app, as well as other platforms, in an effort to boost Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his bid to unseat President Trump in Tuesday’s election.
“This year I wanted to flip the switch on memes,” said Jackie Ni, an 18-year-old from Orange County, Calif.
The recent high school graduate said he saw memes as playing a contributing role in Trump’s 2016 win. He took that idea to support the former vice president, creating the Federal Election Commission-registered super PAC MemePAC in July.
In just two months, Ni amassed more than 6 million views and 310,000 followers on TikTok. It is now the largest super PAC on TikTok, the closest being The Lincoln Project with 30,000 followers. The super PAC formed by Republicans opposed to Trump served as Ni’s inspiration to create MemePAC.
“I kind of wanted to do what they did. Rather than focusing on Republicans, I wanted to focus on the youth,” Ni said.
TikTok has banned paid political posts on its platform, but the platform’s guidelines do not bar users from posting unpaid political posts. Neither the Trump nor Biden campaigns have official accounts on the platform.
In addition to MemePAC’s videos that mock Trump on TikTok, the teen-led group has also launched interactive features and games to engage with potential voters.
One called “Trump Trivia” lets users enter phone numbers and the PAC will send daily memes with “one of Trump’s many mistakes every day until the election.” The TikTok video from earlier this month promoting the feature has more than 134,000 likes.
The interactive features engage voters more “than just watching something on a screen,” Ni said.
Similarly to Ni, a coalition of Generation Z Americans are backing the Biden-Harris ticket on the app with the “TikTokers For Biden” account. The group includes over 400 creators, some not old yet enough to vote, that collectively have more than 200 million followers. The TikTokforBiden account itself has more than 850,000 followers and nearly 13 million “likes.”
Teens who are backing Biden on TikTok said the platform is an effective way to reach a wide audience based on the app’s “For You Page,” which has a stream of videos that pop up for users even if they’re not accounts they follow. The way TikTok operates, smaller accounts can gain large audiences in a way that’s more difficult on other platforms, they said.
“I think TikTok is a great place to have something like this,” said Siena Moran, a 19-year-old creator involved with TikTokers for Biden. “Especially when we have so many different creators from, quote-unquote, ‘different sides of TikTok.’”
Creators involved in the TikTok for Biden effort said the coalition thrives on the platform by allowing exposure for individual creators to direct followers to the TikTok for Biden page.
Aidan Kohn-Murphy, 16, said he came up with the idea to create the group after the first presidential debate and it has taken off since. After the election, he said the group may shift to its focus to some sort of social justice organization and build on the infrastructure it has created so far, but he said he’s not allowing himself to think too far ahead of Election Day just yet.
Youth-led groups may also partner to help reach wider audiences. MemePAC, for example, has an agreement with Settle for Biden, a group that has largely focused on Instagram, to promote each other’s content, Ni said.
TikTok, like other social media platforms, is not home solely to Biden supporters. The #Trump2020 hashtag on TikTok has a total of more than 14 billion views, though there are a great deal of posts with the hashtag that are not in support of Trump’s reelection bid.
Additionally, the Conservative Hype House account, which posts videos in support of Trump, has 1.5 million followers on TikTok and more than 60,000 followers on Instagram.
The push to court young voters comes as members of Generation Z are starting to reach voting age and millennials now make up the majority of the population. Baby boomers still remain the largest share of the electorate, at 28.9 percent, but Generation Z makes up 10.1 percent and millennials make up 27 percent of all eligible voters.
Young voters are also fired up to cast ballots in this year’s election, and many have said they already have, according to a recent poll from progressive group NextGen America. Eighty percent of voters aged 18 to 35 across 13 battleground states said they “definitely” will vote or have already voted, according to a NextGen America survey conducted this month.
Among polled voters who had not yet cast a ballot, Biden led Trump by 27 points, at 58 percent to 31 percent, based on the NextGen poll.
Sam Weinberg, the 19-year-old Illinois native behind Settle for Biden, dismissed concerns that young voters may not turn out for Biden if he wasn’t voters’ top choice in the primary. The account’s memes prop Biden up as a better alternative to Trump through humorous content that is far from flattering Biden.
One meme features a plate of “Joe 2020” cookies with text stating “unappetizing, but still edible.” Another post shows Biden with a child, with text writing “a president our kids can look up to, sorta.”
Since founding the group earlier this year, Weinberg has created a network of about two dozen young voters across the country. Most of the organizers behind Settle for Biden supported Biden’s opponents in the primary, mainly Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Weinberg said.
“You don’t need to be enthusiastic in order to vote for Joe Biden,” Weinberg said.
“You don’t have to agree with someone 100 percent to vote for them. You can recognize one candidate is flawed, and also have to recognize the other candidate is an existential threat to our democracy, and to our ecosystem and to humanity,” he added. “People mistakenly think that they have to be really, really gung-ho and enthusiastic to support candidates. We’re saying, ‘no, you don’t have to be in love with who you’re voting for, but you do have to vote for the person who is going to do the most good or at least the least harm.’”
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