On his way to the presidency, Donald Trump has used social media to his advantage – but some online influencers are hoping to tip the scales back against him ahead of the US election.
The pandemic has seen social media use surge with the likes of Facebook, Instagram and TikTok seeing a near doubling of time spent on the services, and advocates and influencers are trying to capitalise – including those looking to sway the result of the November 3 election.
A campaign led by TikTok creators launched this month with the aim of reaching America’s nearly 100 million monthly active TikTok users and “helping first-time voters put their fingerprints all over the electoral process.”
The progressive voter registration drive, dubbed Tok the Vote, is working to get 18 to 21-year-olds on the platform registered to vote.
One of the creators behind it, Colton Hess, is hoping the US president’s bizarre battle against the Chinese-owned video app will work in the campaign’s favour.
“It’s kind of giving the middle finger to Gen-Z and taking away the one thing that brought them a lot of joy in the last six months,” he told Time last week of Mr Trump’s efforts to ban the app.
“We think that there’s no better way to mobilise Gen-Z to get out to the polls than to ban TikTok, frankly.”
There are creators pushing videos on both sides of the political divide. In fact, the Trump hashtag dwarfs the top Biden hashtags. However the TikTok user-base skews young, which is a demographic that doesn’t show much support for Mr Trump.
In a recent survey of over 4,000 college students, 70 per cent said they will vote for Joe Biden, while only 18 per cent said they planned to cast a ballot for the incumbent president. Meanwhile a significant 81 per cent of those surveyed said they have an unfavourable view of Mr Trump while enthusiasm for Joe Biden is low.
TikTok the new ‘epicentre of Gen-Z congregation’
The Trump campaign has been more active on social media platform Snapchat compared to his Democratic rival Joe Biden, at least until the company moved to stop promoting his account in June. However the youth action has moved over to TikTok, according to Influencer and digital marketing guru Elma Beganovich.
While she trained as a lawyer, Ms Beganovich started the New York based digital marketing firm Amra & Elma along with her sister (who has a degree in economics) after the pair grew a huge social media following on Facebook and Instagram. They’ve seen first-hand the emerging power of social media, particularly in the pandemic.
“I think this is definitely a very interesting time, having these influential online figures basically steering politics in certain direction,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“TikTok has been a rising star during the pandemic,” she said, calling it “the epicentre of Gen-Z congregation”.
Michael Bloomberg’s unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination used TikTok video marketing and paid influencers – the latest nod to the increased role such platforms will play in electoral campaigns.
“The other thing we’re seeing is the ability to quickly mobilise,” Ms Beganovich said, pointing to a viral TikTok campaign that was credited for getting people to pretend to sign up for a Donald Trump rally in June, adding to the embarrassment when fewer than 6,000 people actually turned up.
In a country without mandatory voting, reaching people in order to get them to register and turnout to vote in a particular state can make a genuine difference in a close presidential election.
College students demonstrated some of the most dramatic surges in voter turnout for the 2018 midterm election of any voter group, prompting high expectations for their presence at the polls in 2020, which has added to the growing sense that TikTok and youth-focused social media platforms will be an important battleground in the finals weeks of the campaign.
TikTok to keep ticking in US for now
Earlier this week, a US judge stepped in to stop Donald Trump’s attempted ban on TikTok appearing for download in the US market as he tried to facilitate a deal for a US company to take over the domestic operation of TikTok.
The order from Trump sought to ban new downloads of the app at the end of Sunday (local time), but allowed until November 12 for a second phase aimed at stopping TikTok from operating in the US entirely.
The judge denied TikTok's request to also suspend the November 12 ban, but noted that his decision was “for now.”
The judge's order tells TikTok and the US to work out a schedule to proceed, and that typically means the court wants opposing parties to find middle ground.
Meanwhile, TikTok's overarching suit challenging the legality of Mr Trump's executive orders continues through the court.
A tentative deal would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
However such a deal is expected to be dimly viewed by Beijing, where there is a reported sense that the US move an unjustified appropriation of Chinese technology.
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