How TikTok Got Political

The social media platform was never supposed to be political, but it ended up there anyway

Teens are taking to TikTok to talk (and joke) politics.
Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

TikTok has officially entered the political discourse, whether it likes it or not.

While, as Rebecca Jennings reported in a recent Vox explainer, the social media platform never encouraged political conversation, TikTok’s largely teen and young-adult user base has started it anyway. Despite being designed explicitly to subvert news-sharing — no time stamps, non-chronological home feed, and a ban on political ads — the platform that once sought to differentiate itself from other social media brands as a source of pure, apolitical entertainment has inadvertently become one of the world’s largest and most effective information-sharing platforms in a very short period of time.

Combining the brevity of Twitter with the face time of YouTube and ease of virality with a relatively small following, TikTok has become, as Jennings put it, “the most effective way for a random person to spread a message to the widest possible audience in the shortest amount of time.” And increasingly among TikTok’s young users, that message has been political.

In the past few weeks alone, TikTok videos have taken on a diverse range of international social and political issues, from the Australian bushfires to the Trump impeachment. While many have adopted the internet’s overarching tone of nihilistic humor — such as videos cracking jokes about World War III and the summer camp where queer teens will end up on Mike Pence’s orders — others have taken a more serious approach, like when one teen used TikTok to organize a strike in solidarity with her school district’s teachers, or when another went viral for discussing the Chinese mass internment of Muslims on the app.

TikTok may have never meant to get political, but with a young user base primarily comprised of the generation that’s becoming increasingly well known for vocal political activism, it was ultimately always going to.

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