Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel.

CULTURE | TRUTH | INTELLIGENCE

The Impeachment Spectacle You Didn’t See!

How Pro-Trump Memes Are Thriving Among Young Voters on TikTok.

 

 

I wrote this piece in December of 2019—seemingly a lifetime ago. While the world is a fundamentally different place than it was then, some things still hold. Though Trump has simultaneously threatened to ban TikTok, approve a sale, disapprove of a sale, and ask that the US Government get a cut of any sale, little has changed on the platform itself. Its tremendous growth continues, and its slot machine-like rewarding algorithm only gets better.  As TikTok itself becomes a political football, the political influence of its content remains strong among younger voters. 

 

With the impeachment vote leaving our country more divided than ever, you might consider a quirky app that allows teens to create short-form, often funny videos to be a harmless diversion from the withering political discourse. But while TikTok is filled primarily with goofy dances and kid-friendly memes, we’ve noticed a growing volume of content from young users that is–at best–oddly supportive of Trump’s re-election (given what we know of the generally progressive political leanings of young adults). At worst, this content feels carefully orchestrated to align with Trump talking points.

 

If you can stomach a trip down the TikTok rabbit hole, you’ll be surprised by what you find. There’s open animus toward the LGBT community and progressive values in general. There’s cheeky dismissal of impeachment and the Democratic platform. There’s a not-so-healthy dose of pride in stirring the pot (mirroring, perhaps, Trump himself). And that’s just scratching the surface.

 

The young vote will be a big part of the 2020 election. As a recent USA Today story illustrated, young voters have the power to sway the election. Obama effectively mobilized the youth vote in 2008 and 2012 by leaning into web and email, just as Trump mastered Facebook in 2016 (and continues to in advance of 2020). With his subset of older loyalists seemingly firmly in hand, could the next frontier for Trump’s re-election machine be TikTok?

 

As I write, content with the hashtag #Trump2020 has more than 430 million views on TikTok– nearly four times that of a Super Bowl ad. There’s no Democratic candidate that comes close.

If you can stomach a trip down the TikTok rabbit hole, you’ll be surprised by what you find!

More than scale, however, what really stands out about this content is the message alignment, which echoes the talking points of Trump campaign allies, Fox News voices, and even Russian subterfuge.

 

Themes we see repeated include:

 

Hostility toward Obama’s presidency (it’s worth noting that most TikTok users were children during his terms in office)

Memes that proudly attempt to “trigger” the “snowflakes” and “libtards”

Hostility toward Obama’s presidency (it’s worth noting that most TikTok users were children during his terms in office)

 

It’s impossible to say whether this is a coordinated effort in support of Trump’s re-election, a byproduct of TikTok’s algorithmic black box (which may systematically advantage these polarizing messages, as we’ve seen with Facebook), or a truly organic youth movement–existing on TikTok if not elsewhere.

The hashtag #Trump2020 has more than 430 million views on TikTok– nearly four times that of a Super Bowl ad. There’s no Democratic candidate that comes close.

But not subject to speculation is the potency of these “us vs. them” messages in driving polarization–and undermining our democracy in the process–and the growing influence of TikTok (500 million people are engaging with the app globally each month). If these TikTok trendlines continue, #Trump2020 (and similar) hashtags could rack up more than one billion views by the time voters head to the polls.

 

The progressive sector was slow to take heed of Trump’s dominant, potent use of Facebook in 2016, which became one of the dominant themes in post-election analysis. We need to unpack what’s happening on TikTik now–rather than on November 4th, 2020–to avoid a similar fate.

 

Words By Jordan Ruden