- A new analysis of political social-media posts found more TikTok videos supporting Republican causes than Democratic ones.
- Researchers at the Technical University of Munich study reviewed more than 7,000 videos created mostly from last October to this past February.
- They found a larger number of Trump-supporting videos, suggesting that TikTok is ripe for Republican political targeting.
- Trump risks undermining youth support, however, with his threats to ban the app — owned by the Chinese company ByteDance — if it is not sold to a US firm by mid-September.
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He’s spent tens of thousands of dollars calling TikTok a Chinese state plot and has threatened to ban the app in the US — but President Donald Trump may well be cutting off a platform full of support for him.
Research by academics at the Technical University of Munich of a sample of TikTok videos found Republicans outnumbering and outproducing Democrats when it came to political content posted on the platform.
A peer-reviewed analysis of thousands of videos posted to TikTok from October to February using political hashtags, presented at the Web Science conference in July, found 60% more videos were created by Republican-leaning users than Democratic ones.
“On Twitter one would suspect there were more left-leaning users and more of the right-leaning ones have migrated to Gab and other platforms,” says Juan Carlos Medina Serrano, one of the authors of the paper. “But on TikTok there were a lot of Trump-supporting videos.”
Republican-supporting TikTok creators were more prolific than their left-leaning peers, with about 2,000 Trump-supporting TikTokers recorded, compared with roughly 1,250 Democratic TikTokers.
The sample size of videos is relatively small — 7,825 videos in all — demonstrating the relatively small scale of political discourse on the app before the presidential campaign truly took off. Videos were gathered by searching for #republican and #democrat, and finding associated duets of the videos.
“You see political communications [on TikTok] are often debates on duets,” Serrano says. “Older users are doing a video, then 14 or 16-year-olds are commenting on those videos and you see those cross-generational communications you wouldn’t normally have. At a Sunday dinner your 14-year-old nephew wouldn’t start talking politics with their uncle.”
The political wisdom of Trump attacking TikTok, a platform where the Republican Hype House, a collection of right-wing creators trying to capture a young audience for the president, has nearly 800,000 followers, may be questionable.
“TikTok users are like generation Z pundits,” Serrano says. “They want to discuss political topics because they know it goes viral – and Trump himself is viral gold.”
It’s for that reason that a ban of the kind Trump has threatened — he wants the Chinese company ByteDance to sell the app’s US business to a US company by mid-September — might actually hurt him.
“By outright banning TikTok, Trump would be cutting off what would appear to a politically active platform for the conservative movement,” says Steven Buckley, an associate lecturer at the University of the West of England. “And he would do this simply because some teens and Sarah Cooper made him look silly.”
Sarah Cooper is the US comedian who has shot to fame with her parodies of Trump on TikTok.
Buckley believes some of Trump’s vitriol may be a hangover of TikTok users claiming to have helped inflate turnout expectations at Trump’s attempted comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, earlier this summer.
There are indications that America’s teenagers are also planning to punish Trump for his threats against TikTok by ordering campaign packs, with the intent of duping the campaign on how many supporters it actually has.
“If Republican lawmakers actually understood TikTok and saw the value it could provide for their campaigns in terms of youth outreach — a demographic they tend to fare poorly in — they would likely be against Trump’s desire to ban it,” Buckley adds.
That’s something Serrano agrees with.
“I think Trump’s not aware of how popular he is on TikTok,” he says. “If he would be aware, he would consider not banning it because most of the younger generations there are supporting him and doing free advertising.”