How Gen Z Is Using TikTok to Reshape the Election

How Gen Z Is Using TikTok to Reshape the Election (Photo: Getty Images/Chesnot)

Canadian activist and actor Aleysha says she was one of the first to post a video on TikTok saying she reserved tickets to President Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally with no intention of going. She encouraged her followers to do the same. We’re using Aleysha’s first name only for safety reasons.

She didn’t expect much to come of it since it didn’t feel any different from her other posts. 

“I thought that I would get like maybe 1,000 [or] 2,000 likes because usually, my better TikToks do that well,” Aleysha said. 

Then it went viral. 

“In two days, I had about 20,000 likes, and I thought that was as big as it was going to get,” she said. “It just kept growing. I still get hundreds of notifications a day from it.” 

While Aleysha was inundated with likes, Trump saw a fraction of the supporters his campaign had expected at last month’s rally. And now, TikTok is at it again, hoping to recreate their success at Trump’s next appearance in New Hampshire.

Beyond producing some very memorable photos (and good laughs), what happened in Tulsa just might be an indicator of the impact young people could have in the upcoming election.

Such events reflect an increase in participation in activism, online and off, among young people that research centers like CIRCLE have been following for some time. Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE, says one of the takeaways is that young people who are politically aware, but not of voting age, know who to mobilize under extreme measures like quarantine. 

“It’s really cool to see young people really leveraging the tools they have at their disposal to engage in politics,” Lundberg said. 

Interestingly, this all gained popularity over TikTok, a social media platform that was already popular among young people but became even more politicized during the quarantine. Some people assume that teens are only on social media to watch trending videos or to post selfies. While that’s partially true, CIRCLE has noticed that young people are using social media to engage with politics in ways few expected. The impact this particular instance of online activism had on a sitting president and his campaign for re-election made it exceptional, said Abby Kiesa, CIRCLE’s director of impact.  

“Doing things like what happened at the rally is one way to say, hey, ‘We have a political voice. We have political power, and you may not be paying enough attention to us,’” Kiesa said. Lundberg referred to the TikTok protest as a gateway to future civic and political engagement by this group of young people. 

For Lauren, a college student based in Indiana, participating in this action was her way to send a message to the president. Lauren asked that we not use her last name for fear of retaliation. 

“If this was just a random rally, I don’t know if I would have made it my business to reserve tickets,” Lauren said. “[Trump] was so dead set on having this rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on Juneteenth, a very historic moment for Black people in America. I had to show him that this is not OK.” 

Lauren doesn’t consider herself a very political person, but she felt Trump’s actions made it impossible for her to stay quiet. “Being a Black woman in America, I have to be a political person because the system is not built for us. So we have to be as aware of what’s going on,” she said. 

Lundberg said the fact that so many teens and young adults mobilized to troll the Trump campaign is a shining example of the extreme measures young people are willing to take to effect change. 

“When young people see other young people taking action, it reinforces the idea that young people’s voices matter and that young people have a role to play in civic life,” Lundberg said. 

If there is ever a time young voters feel powerless, they need only look back at this time and remember how thousands of young people made the news by ghosting the president.

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