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  • Writer's picturePeter DiSilvio

Pros and Cons for the Aspiring TikTok Politician

You're looking to run for office and you are at the stage where you are looking to establish your digital footprint. The earlier you decide where to put your resources and how to measure success the better. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, are, in many ways, the brainstem of any campaigns online presence; the basis around which you can build. However, with the rise of TikTok the question must be asked, is the platform worth it for aspiring public figures?


Pro: Get Out The Youth Vote

TikTok is the second most popular social media platform for Generation Z, voters currently between the age of 18 and 24. When you consider that the youth turn out was higher in 2020 than in 2016 their impact, especially that of young people of color, can be seen a a key factor in the victor of Joe Biden. Taking advantage of this constituency online allows a politician to get their message into a new and important voting bloc.


Pro: Fire Up The Base

TikTok is incredibly addictive given the high turnover of content and the algorithms way of maintaining engagement. A short, low effort video of the dance of the moment or with the right soundtrack can rocket an individual to online stardom! In this vein, the right video can substantially increase an aspiring politicians profile.


Pro: Humanize Yourself

We have spoken before about the power of parasocial relationships, the phenomenon whereby an audience in their mediated encounters with performers in the mass media, particularly on television and on online platforms, forms a strong emotional bond with said performers [1]. The only way to take advantage of parasocial relationships is to do everything in your power to drive home the notion with your audience that your social media profiles reflect who you are in the most genuine light possible as opposed to a carefully curated and maintained PR machine. Well placed, seemingly candid or lighthearted, Tiktoks can humanize a public figure and make them feel more relatable to their constituencies.


Pro: Low "Entry Costs"

There is no fee to setting up a TikTok account unlike setting up a website or most advertising campaigns. If you set up an account, decide the platform is not for you, and abandon it you will not be out anything beyond the time you put into the platform. The risks are minuscule compared the costs associated with most advertising initiatives.


Pro: It's All In the Name

If you don't control your name on a platform, including TikTok, someone else will. Leaving your name available as a website or a screen name on a major platform is asking for an opponent to pick it up and use it against you. Worse still, simply slapping on the label of "Parody Account" will prevent you from getting any tech giant to take action on your behalf, if you could ever get them at all. These parody accounts were so prevalent un the United Kingdom that one party told their membership to sign up for TikTok and claim their names as usernames even if they never intended to use it just to keep it out of the hands of the opposition [2].


Con: No political advertising!

While Facebook still struggles with [political advertising guidelines, TikTok has followed the lead of Twitter [3] and banned all political ads on the platform. While this does mean that every public official is on the same footing regardless of their bank accounts, it also means you cannot target your messaging for greatest effect.


Con: Suggestions are not tied to geography

Staying with targeting, TikTok suggestions are not geolocked. Any content you post on the platform can be suggested to anyone in the world. A New York Congressman could have a million followers in Colorado and it would have no effect on their political fortunes short of it translating to donations.


Con: Don't Trust Anyone Over 30

This is the flip side to the platform skewing young. Any time you are putting effort into TikTok, you are not putting effort into something else. TikTok will likely not get you older voters and, if you are counting on them for your support, that can be disastrous.


Con: Gaffe Cringe Is Real

Political gaffes happen but, in the age of social media, the can live on forever. Worse still, a particularly cringe inducing line or video can live in infamy. Think back on the scream that ended Howard Dean's presidential aspirations [4] or when a British politician literally ran away from a reporter leading to weeks of jokes at his expense [5]. The highly viral nature of TikTok coupled with the ability to use audio and video from others in your own content greatly increases the opportunity for ones detractors to use your own posts against you.


Con: Ties To China

TikTok is a Chinese company and not subject to many of the disclosure requirements US companies are. While security experts debate exactly how tied the company is to the Chinese government, everyone admits that China's industrial espionage is a threat to U.S. technological security. It is well documented that the international technology power house, Huawei, was started using technology stolen abroad and brought back to China. Finding individuals willing to steal industrial secrets or engage in any other type of espionage is infinitely easier when the Chinese already know the weak points of millions of Americans.


To Join or Not to Join

The decision of whether to join TikTok or not is complicated. Before making that first account and doing a silly dance a public figure, or the staff advising one, should consider the many perils and promises of this new social media platform. With millions upon millions of users the platform shows no signs of slowing down so it may become a political necessity before long.



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