“Republicans should be terrified of Gen Z and young voters,” tweeted Harry Nisson, a 20-year-old NYU student and one of President Joe Biden’s newest influencer recruits.
Despite supporting a potential ban of TikTok if its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, refuses to sell the platform and give up its ownership, Biden is also thinking about dedicating a White House press briefing room to a hoard of social media influencers, including some with massive TikTok followings.
While it remains unclear whether or not China is using TikTok as its own personal spyware, or how that would even play out, it’s quite clear that Biden is willing to embrace hypocrisy to reach younger voters in the upcoming presidential election (which he alluded to participating in during a televised chat with Al Roker during the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll).
According to reports by Axios, Biden’s digital strategy team will connect with influencers across the nation to target social media users not yet following the official accounts for the White House or Democratic Party.
It’s no secret that TikTok has a hold on Gen Z users in their late teens and early twenties –– in other words, first and second-time voters. Biden’s staff isn’t disguising its strategy in the least, using a platform with over one billion global users and an algorithm that’s thought to be better at targeting specific users than any other current social platform.
“We're trying to reach young people,” White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon told Axios, adding that the campaign is also targeting “moms who use different platforms to get information and climate activists and people whose main way of getting information is digital.”
With Trump as Biden’s likely competitor, reaching younger, more liberal voters on social is key due to the ex-President’s mass following across platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
Alongside Sisson, is Boston College professor Heather Cox Richardson (big on Substack and Twitter), and Vivian Tu, a former trader with millions of social followers who breaks down finance in short clips on TikTok and Instagram.
These creators, along with dozens more recruited by Biden’s team (led by the president’s assistant Rob Flaherty), may land a briefing room in the White House, providing them heightened access to the president.
All the while, a potential TikTok ban is still being publicly supported by the White House, a move that seems to go directly against this new influencer initiative, as some influencers have made apparent in recent comments.
“I’m not defending TikTok as a company, I’m defending my entire generation,” 19-year-old Harvard freshman Aiden Kohn-Murphy told NBC News. Kohn-Murphy founded a group called TikTok for Biden (now Gen Z for Change) that includes 500 creators with a combined 500 million followers on multiple platforms. “If they went ahead with banning TikTok, it would feel like a slap in the face to a lot of young Americans. Democrats don’t understand the political consequences this would have.”
Are Republicans who are also in favor of a TikTok ban also using it to help their campaigns? Probably. But I don’t believe that Biden, or any other American politician, can have it both ways. Either ban the app or let it live on for its 150 million U.S. users -- many of whom get their political information from TikTok (and many of whom will fight the ban like hell).
With Gen Z voters partially credited for Biden’s win in 2020, having turned several swing states blue in a record turnout, the choice (politically at least) for Biden seems easy.