Politicians want to reach young voters on Tiktok. But can they pass the ‘teenager eye-roll test’?


As Megan Thee Stallion raps about her desires for a boyfriend, a young woman records herself in her room, in sweatpants and a tank top, leaning towards her phone.

In sync with the beat of the track, it subsides. This is usually the part where the TikTok makers pivot and show themselves in a new outfit, which shine.

rather than, A 49-year-old man appears in a suit and tieAn American flag on a stand behind her, mirroring the woman’s dance pose before she sits on the floor of her office.

“Hey, are you registered to vote?” Florida Democratic congressional candidate Ken Russell asks, the bear crawling toward the screen of his phone. “There’s a primary on 23 August and a general election on 8 November. Wait, come back, wait…”

A pair of Chapman University students reviewing videos while having fun on campus falls silent for a few seconds. Then they call it “cheesy” and “weird.”

“Well, it’s a girl with a thirst trap and then all of a sudden it’s a boy,” said Katrina Maric, 20. “I thought it was a little weird.”

But Keaton Safu at Cal State Long Beach approved. The eight-second clip of 18-year-old Vide Russell was true to TikTok users’ lack of time or attention: He was “like, ‘Eight, listen, this is when the election is coming up, vote now.’ Boom! That’s all I need.”

A lot of TikTok users agreed. Russell’s video went viral.

As Gen Z’s social media app has grown in popularity, with more than 138 million active users in the US, politicians are trying to attract younger voters.

“Politicians are trying to “establish their presence and foothold wherever people are going next,” said Thad Kauser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego. Voters and donors in five to ten years are the people who will use this as their social media of choice.

But how to do it right? It needs to be completely authentic and keep the video ultra-short, a vague response to security concerns, and the threat of coming across like the ubiquitous meme of the Steve Buscemi character.”How do you do, fellow kids?,

The biggest challenge according to Kausar? Passing the “Teenager Eye-Roll Test”.

Calling Gen Z

“Young people are valuable acquisitions in the campaign trail,” said Michael Kornfield, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University who has studied how politics has emerged on the Internet since the 2000s. I can, if I can ask you to give it to me.” [your] Email address, maybe I can take you to volunteer. Maybe I can ask you to share the content with your friends and on your social networks. Maybe I can ask you to pay me.”

Alice Joshi, 20, deputy executive director of Gen Z for Change, a nonprofit that uses TikTok to help promote civic engagement and help select progressive candidates, said the platform provides a valuable opportunity to politicians.

“If you want to win, you have an untapped generation that cares a lot about issues, but often doesn’t vote because they don’t think they have an option that is going to speak for them,” Joshi said.

Tiktok, the first gained traction with teens For its viral dances and challenges, boom in popularity People sought relief from collective despair during the pandemic. And it’s become a favorite search engine for Gen Zs as users look for cool new places and niche communities – and filter through the news.

TikTok and its young users – rejecting many curated, carefully planned shots – helped usher in a new era of internet culture,

They were telling their peers it was okay if they were having trouble dealing with a pandemic or putting on a few pounds during quarantine, said Alessandro Bogliari, chief executive officer and co-founder of Influencer Marketing Factory, which connects influencers and brands. Is. He said Gen Z stopped using the filter because it created an unrealistic benchmark.

“The word ‘authenticity’ has become a huge buzzword,” Bogliari, 31, said.

Joshi said young social media users can recognize “in a heartbeat” if a video isn’t genuine or if a politician is relying on interns for direction. For politicians who get it right, though, “you can see them, hear them and you can feel their passion. It’s hard to hear the passion through some characters on Twitter and photos on Instagram,” he said.

This is how Rhode Island State Sen. Tiara Mack, 28, approaches her social media platforms since being elected in 2020.

On TikTok, she talks about the importance of abortion funding, her work as “the first openly queer black senator elected from Rhode Island” and issues of policy and voting. She also tries to have fun. In one clip, she is smiling wearing a rainbow crochet bikini top and hot pink cowgirl hat. “I am not a regular senator, I am a hot senator,” reads the caption. In another clip, she is on the beach in a bikini, twerking while holding a headstand. “Vote Senator Mac!” she says into the camera.

That eight second video went viral, what Mack said was a purpose, It brought her hate mail along with interview requests from national outlets. “It was kind of a way to be silly, but yeah be it, I’m a young, hot senator and I have a platform to talk about the things I want to do,” she said.

feeding algorithm

TikTok is algorithm-driven, which means its system will curate what appears on a user’s For You page. The more a user engages, the more the system will display similar content while occasionally mixing in other content. Users are encouraged to publish videos — usually selfie-style clips of less than a minute — in the hopes that they’ll gain enough traction to appear on the feed. Strangers determine within seconds whether or not they like the material.

Markus Bosch, a research fellow studying the platform at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, said novice candidates do well on TikTok because they take risks with content, some accidentally tapping into “meta cringe” moments.

Brian Hawkins, a 43-year-old Republican pastor, in one such district, Democratic Rep. Challenging Ral Ruiz, which covers parts of the Inland Empire and Imperial Counties, received his first post, garnering over 1 million views.

In 51 second clip Published last year, he introduced himself as “the most dangerous political figure in California”. He descends in the middle of a San Jacinto street, declaring: “I’m black. I’m conservative. I’m back blue. I defend the Second Amendment. I’m a pro-life person, all your life, your whole life.” .

Over 12,000 users commented from across the country. One user wrote, “I’m from California… and you have my vote Mr. Brian Hawkins!!!”. Another commented, “Political additions are turning into wrestler introductions and I’m here for it.”

Hawkins is one of the rare Republican politicians to use the app. TikTok use among politicians leaves Democrats, with many in the GOP – and some Democrats – expressing concerns about the app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance. Checking TikTok’s data behavior It revolves around concerns that the company may be sending user information to China. on Friday, The New York Times reported Research indicates that the app can track users’ keystrokes. There is also concern that algorithmic interference may be involved in changing the tone of public discourse.

The Democratic National Committee cautioned employees against the app in 2020, but said they should use a different device and account if needed for campaign work. DNC Join Tiktok this year, The Republican National Committee has no account on the stage.

Some of the candidates interviewed for this story expressed minimal concern about how the app handles US user data. San Fernando Valley representative Tony Cardenas said he made it a point to use a different mobile device when recording TikTok. Hawkins said he was not concerned about the issue.

tiktok bottom line

Will collecting likes and views – even a million of them – help candidates win their race? Political analysts say it is too early to say. At the very least, he says, outreach helps lay the groundwork for bringing youth into politics and educating, encouraging and engaging them.

Cárdenas, who is seeking re-election, learned through his staff that the platform was a way to meet “a lot of people, especially young people”.

In a video he shared what it’s like to fetch his employee’s dog Teddy, The Office’s Unofficial Cavapoo MascotTo work in the Capital. The theme song for “The Office” is played as the puppy takes phone calls, listens to office banquets, and lies on the floor. Teddy eventually sat down in Cardenas’ desk chair as an employee tried to explain the paperwork.

Cárdenas, who described himself as a “very serious guy”, said he is willing to try “flapping and bubbling” through trendy dance moves to reach young people. He’s been talked into by staff to try something – although he’s still considering the “jiggle jiggle” dance – as he tries to work out ways to get users’ attention. talks about issues Or revels in what it’s like to work at Capitol.

“If it means laughing at myself a little or people laughing at me,” he said. “It’s not hurting me. But in the end, it will be better for everyone.”

What about eye roll?

Caterina Marrick and her friend, 20-year-old Alana Sayer, Chapman’s student who considered Russell’s video to be rubbish, said they prefer campaign literature and more traditional campaign propaganda such as websites.

“When I go to TikTok it’s because I’m trying to watch funny, entertaining videos,” said Maric, who is not registered to vote. “Not because I’m trying to take lessons in politics.”

Both students said they liked Cardenas’ video featuring Teddy because of the cute dog and the jingle they recognized. Hawkins, he said, also tried It was “hard to relate and like” and the clip was too long. And Mack’s twist left both uncomfortable and embarrassed.

“If they’re on TikTok or like to do stuff like that, I don’t take them seriously,” said Sayer, a registered Republican who plans to vote in November.

‘Reality Factor’

Katie Porter in Orange County, the “reality factor” is enough to make the platform do well, said Bosch, who analyzes how TikTok operates.

Internet-savvy Porter joined the platform in May and has already garnered more than 300,000 followers. The Irvine Democrat’s account bio reads: “Minivan-driving single mom, law professor, consumer advocate .” Her videos highlight what she is known for: keeping corporations on account While running a white board. At least six of his videos have crossed 1 million views.

And Porter, as a mother of three kids, doesn’t have to look far to see if she passes the eye-roll test. “There are some suggestions that my posts are bad,” she said, “but I think it’s pretty standard for kids to say this to their parents.”


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