Democrats hope TikTok creators will help sway voters

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President Biden spent more than an hour this week at the White House with eight TikTok stars with a combined following of more than 67 million people who were brought to Washington in the hopes that their messages will generate votes for the Democrats in the Nov. 8 midterm.

In addition to the Oval Office meeting, TikTok creators held a session with former President Barack Obama, toured the Supreme Court and Capitol, and met with leaders of the Democratic National Committee and Committee on campaign of the Democratic Congress, the main campaign arm of the House. Democrats.

The trip, which was organized by the DNC, was the most visible effort yet by Democrats trying to leverage TikTok’s vast following to influence the midfielders and is likely to prove controversial with Republicans, many of whom have harshly criticized TikTok’s Chinese ownership. Former President Donald Trump at one point ordered TikTok shut down in the United States, then tried to force the sale of its US operations. Those efforts failed, however, though Republicans continued to accuse the app of being a threat.

Since then, TikTok has been downloaded more than 100 million times by users in the United States, and it has overtaken Facebook and Instagram’s Meta to become the country’s fastest growing social media app.

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“House Democrats are committed to reaching voters where they are and reminding them of what’s at stake on November 8,” said Cara Koontz, DCCC’s director of digital communications. “We are thrilled to have their partnership in this first-of-its-kind effort for the DCCC.”

It remains to be seen how the creators will benefit from the visit. Many were previously largely apolitical, encouraging their fans to vote but not explicitly supporting parties or candidates. For many, this was their first visit to the nation’s capital and their first interaction with government.

“I think the DNC brought me in as a pretty independent creator, trying to be a non-partisan creator who didn’t vote for Obama,” said V Spehar, host of Under the Desk News, a television channel. news TikTok with 2.7 million subscribers.

It was clear during the visit that while their names and faces might be unknown to many in Washington political circles, that was not true for all. A launch dinner at We, The Pizza on Capitol Hill became so chaotic with swarms of young fans snapping photos and asking to take TikTok videos with the creators that staff quickly cleared an upstairs space for the stars can dine in peace.

The dinner conversation focused on issues such as reproductive rights and strategizing to get the most out of their midterm audience, several attendees said.

“We felt very excited, very optimistic,” Spehar said. “A lot of creators explained that they didn’t get much civic education in school. They were excited to learn more about the structure of government and see it in person.

This lack of familiarity with government apparently applied to their audience as well. After the group solicited mid-term questions on Instagram Stories, influencer Nia Sioux, 21, an actress and creator with 8.3 million followers on TikTok, realized her young followers were confused by the references to mid-terms in its publications. They thought she was talking about her midterms at UCLA. She rephrased her messages to clarify that she meant the midterm elections.

The trip was organized with the help of Daniel Daks, the founder of Palette, a talent management company. The DNC reached out to Daks because he had previously organized influencer efforts for the 2020 Biden campaign.

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The DNC paid for the creators’ travel and travel expenses but does not directly compensate them for the videos they post. “Content creators have platforms that can reach millions, and we’re excited about this collaboration as part of our efforts to reach young voters to remind them of what’s at stake in this election and how to make a plan to vote,” said Shelby Cole, deputy chief of mobilization at the DNC.

Their first stop on Monday was at the Supreme Court. The group filmed content on the steps of the building and created videos reiterating the importance of the court in deciding issues such as Abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Then they met Obama in his DC office. The former president spoke to them about the importance of these midterm elections, calling a Democratic victory in November crucial. Afterwards, the creators filmed one-on-one TikTok videos with him.

DCCC management welcomed the creators to the organization’s offices on Monday. Influencers held a meeting with high-level DCCC staff members who projected the midterm election battleground map onto a large screen and outlined key districts they hoped TikTokers could help them with. to influence. They also taught the group effective messaging strategies.

“For a group of people looking at a video that only gets 400,000 views per flop,” Daks said, “to be told that many elections come down to less than 5,000 votes was a revelation.”

Mattie Westbrouck, 22, an online creator with more than 10.2 million followers on TikTok, said it was their first time in DC and the trip was a great learning experience. “The one takeaway was that Michigan’s 3rd District really mattered because that’s where young voters matter the most,” Westbrouck said. “I will try to promote the content to best reach those voters.”

After a long Monday, the influencers dined with DNC staffers at Brasserie Liberté, a French restaurant in Georgetown.

On Tuesday, the group received a private tour of the Capitol. As they walked the halls, a tour guide explained the branches of government and how the House and Senate work. They saw the House bedroom and Nancy Pelosi’s office, even though the congresswoman was not there. At one point, a creator pointed out that there were images of corn carved into the columns just outside the old Senate chamber and the group joked about the TikTok meme “it’s corn”.

“It was amazing to watch the creators interpret government through the lens of internet culture,” Daks said.

Then it was off to the White House for a press conference where President Biden received a covid reminder. TikTokers had a brief encounter with the White House press corps, some of whom tried to sit in their seats.

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“No one in our group has been recognized by the press,” Spehar said. “After they tried to steal our seats, they had no more questions or curiosity about why we were there or who we were.”

The trip to the White House was arranged directly, not through the DNC. Biden has embraced TikTok creators throughout his presidency, often holding briefings with them on key issues such as the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. After the press conference, Biden ushered the content creators into the Oval Office for an hour-long private meeting.

The creators said that during the meeting, Biden told his personal story and explained why he got into politics. He showed the creators family photos and asked if any of them would consider running for office. Some creators said it was something they would consider. He personally guided them to the west wing and encouraged them to get the coronavirus vaccine booster.

“It felt like a little tour of the room, but by the president,” Westbrouck said.

“He didn’t mention the election or the vote,” Spehar said.

“We know people listen to trusted messengers, and as growing numbers of young people turn to Instagram, TikTok and other platforms for news and information, we need to engage directly with the voices they trust. “, said Rob Flaherty, the director of the White House. of the digital strategy.

Young people are increasingly getting their news and information from content creators on TikTok, according to surveys. The percentage of people who consume information on TikTok has tripled since 2020, and more than 26% of adults under the age of 30 regularly receive information on TikTok, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

The DNC opened a TikTok account in March, making it the only US political party on the platform. The DNC employs a full-time content strategist dedicated solely to TikTok, growing the group’s platform by posting news clips, explainers and trending memes.

“In all my years in politics, I have never seen a single strategy that could single-handedly overthrow a state,” said Madeline V. Twomey, founder of digital consultancy Rufus and Mane, who has also worked at the organization of the trip. “TikTok is that strategy – it impacts culture and politics in a way that no other media reaches.”

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“We’re seeing more and more politicians and the party establishment starting to embrace this new and incredibly effective way to reach young people,” said Aidan Kohn-Murphy, founder of Gen Z for Change, a group formerly known as Gen Z for Change. known as TikTok for Biden. . “We’re seeing a lot of campaigns and party organizations starting to adopt the tactics that digital organizers have been saying have worked for years.”

In 2020, TikTok for Biden brought together a coalition of over 500 TikTok creators to support Biden in his campaign against Trump.

The creators on the trip said they felt more comfortable talking about policies and candidates after their time in DC “I honestly think it’s a scary time for people who can get pregnant and won’t be able to. not be entitled to an abortion,” Sioux said. . “I will talk about my position on this and have more information in my social media content.”

Kat Wellington, 24, a lifestyle and fashion content creator, said she was previously hesitant to go political on her TikTok account, but that was likely to change after the DC meetings. “I realized I wanted to share more about what I believe in,” she said. “This trip has helped push me to use my platform for this. I don’t want to be afraid to share my genuine beliefs about politics, even if it’s going to upset some people.

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