How TikTok has become a platform for political conversation

TikTok is somewhat of a controversial topic. Whether it be its dodgy privacy laws or its damaging censorship, people have opinions about it. However, that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most-used social media sites for those in the Gen Z category. 

I ran a survey in which I asked Gen Z Twitter users if they used TikTok, and if so had their usage increased more in lockdown. Of the 14 votes participants, 64% replied ‘Yes’, indicating an increased usage in the app since March, whilst 29% said no (7% of the participants did not fall into the Gen Z category). Using this, I came to the conclusion that as an app, it’s just become more and more popular in lockdown.

And, much like any social media platform, politics has entered it. I mean, it’s pretty difficult to avoid politics on social media in the current politically-charged environment we all are living through right now, but it’s fascinating to see how the platform engages with political conversations. Also, with the increased amount of usage in lockdown and with lockdown causing a general heightened tension in individuals anyway, political conversations are inevitable on the app. 

I think it’s fairly safe to say that the majority of people on social media (perhaps excluding Facebook) are pretty left-leaning in their beliefs. Everyday I watch celebrities with right-wing opinions get torn down on Twitter and on Instagram, and left-wing politics certainly seem to be the best ‘popular’ or ‘cool’ to agree with. I’m not saying which one is right and wrong, as that’s not the purpose of this piece, but this left-wing dominance can be proved strongly when we focus our attention on TikTok. 

As I was aimlessly scrolling one day, I came across @backboris on my ‘For You’ page. I don’t have an account, so I do not interact with any posts, and therefore I’m not sure why the algorithm recommended me this video. In it, there’s a boy (looking of around school age) posing in front of what I assume to be his bedroom wall, which is painted as a Union Jack flag. This isn’t a sure-fire way of determining whether someone is a Conservative, but his username definitely confirmed it. This teenage boy has almost 10,000 followers on the app, and each of his videos range from 1000 videos to 300,000 views. And, unsurprisingly, it’s the politically-charged videos which are most popular. 

Some examples of the content he makes include joking about the state of a council estate, lists of why to vote tory, and general ridicule of the labour party and its supporters. Despite the high amount of views each TikTok reaches, its likes are significantly lower. His 135.2k viewed video titled ‘Why you should not support the labour party’, for example, only has 3k likes. And, when looking at the comments, it’s not a surprise to see why he gets so many views and so little likes. Hundreds of comments flood in, most of them in disagreement and a lot of them causing some interesting conversation. 

TikTok is definitely very effective in allowing political conversation to happen, and one reason for this is its specific trends. These trends are unique to the app and often central to the political argument being exhibited, which is why they become so popular. 

An example of this is lists, mentioned earlier in user @backboris. He lists his political arguments, but does it in time to a popular song (which has become a popular sound on the app) whilst pointing to each point in time with the music. Similarly, some users take other people’s sounds out of context and use them in a politically-charged manner. This increases engagement, by using a popular ‘meme-worthy’ sound, and thus increases the political conversation that occurs. 

Another popular trend on TikTok is to jump from one side of the screen to the other, where one side is labelled ‘Agree’ and another ‘Disagree’. Oftentimes this is used to showcase something like an individual’s music taste or their favourite TV shows, but some users have adapted the trend to suit their political means. I remember seeing an individual using this trend and having topics like ‘Abortion’ and ‘Free healthcare’ to which he argued against. Trends like these are so easy to get involved in, which is likely why they are always popular on the app. 

Additionally, it’s the ‘duet’ feature which TikTok is so famous for. If you’re unaware of what this is, it basically enables users to record a video next to someone else’s, allowing them to have somewhat of a ‘conversation’ (though not live, of course). Much of these are friendly, but the feature has also been subjected to some pretty severe political arguments. This isn’t surprising – what else do you expect when allowing two individuals with two entirely different opinions a platform where they can easily showcase their agreement/disagreement to users of the app?

It’s not just the lockdown angering people that’s gotten politics so much attention on the app, either. Michael Gove’s daughter famously owned a TikTok account in which she posted some questionable content which would most definitely not align with her father’s views. One video was captioned “Did you text your dealer “daddy when r u back” when you were faded last night thinking it was your dad” (if you don’t believe me, just type ‘Beatrice Gove’ into Twitter). Unsurprisingly, this got a lot of attention and it wasn’t long before her account was deleted. 

So, when considering the popular trends which TikTok users produce and the extremely politically-charged world that we exist in currently, it’s not hard to understand why it’s produced so much political dialogue. Also, when a Cabinet member’s daughter appears on your ‘For You’ page, you know just how influential it is as an app for Gen Z.

Photo courtesy of Kon Karampelas

Categories: Article, Opinion

Georgie Holmes

English student & music/book/cat lover

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