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For months, we’ve been hearing about a potential nationwide ban on TikTok, the Chinese social media platform. A number of states, cities, and universities have cracked down on TikTok usage, as has the federal government. And congressional lawmakers have even introduced the Restrict Act, which is designed to limit the reach of foreign social media apps such as TikTok, but as of yet, we’ve had no comprehensive TikTok ban.
TikTok influencers and the 2024 presidential campaign
A big reason for the lack of action on this front might have to do with the complex role that TikTok already plays in our nation’s politics. For all the lawmakers who want to shut down TikTok entirely, there appears to be an equal number of lawmakers who want to embrace TikTok as a way to further their own political ambitions. From their perspective, TikTok is the perfect social media platform for reaching Generation Z and the youngest voters in this nation.
Case in point: it now looks like the Democratic Party will be embracing TikTok as a political influence tool in the 2024 presidential election. In the move to re-elect President Joseph Biden, TikTok could play a prominent role. According to initial reports earlier this year, the White House is hiring an “army” of hundreds of TikTok influencers. It is even mulling over the prospect of giving these TikTok influencers a separate press briefing room at the White House, or finding new ways to include them on the campaign trail. Even if nobody shows up for a Biden rally, it can still be effective if there are a few loyal TikTok fans in the audience, who can then share the latest political talking points with tens of thousands of followers.
Is TikTok good or bad for politics?
This raises the question, of course, of whether or not TikTok is good for politics. On one hand, the social media platform seems to be a powerful way to engage young voters, many of whom might be turned off by the thought of getting involved in the political process. If young voters can watch a few politically-themed TikTok videos after watching a few funny cat videos, it might get them excited about certain causes or movements in America. The Biden re-election team, for example, has specifically targeted climate change as a big issue to unite the young voter base. And certain demographic groups – such as suburban moms in key electoral states – could become the target of influencers.
On the other hand, the use of TikTok videos to discuss serious economic or foreign policy issues can dumb down an issue so much that it seems faintly ridiculous. If you’ve ever heard Vice President Kamala Harris describe why we should support Ukraine (“Ukraine is a country in Europe… Russia is a bigger country…”), then you get the idea of what TikTok can do to political discourse. Condensing any complex geopolitical issue into a 15-second sound bite is a recipe for disaster.
Moreover, there’s also the question of who’s funding these new TikTok armies. We’re now learning that George Soros could be backing these TikTok influencers, all with the intention of shaping American politics to his own liking. Maybe this is just another of those internet conspiracy theories (“shadowy billionaire is trying to destroy America”), but maybe it’s not. We certainly don’t want deep-pocketed political donors controlling the political discourse in this nation, regardless of whether they are on the left or the right.
Forget about a TikTok ban
At the end of the day, then, we can basically forget about a nationwide TikTok ban. It won’t happen any time soon. Once the 2024 presidential election cycle really ramps up, it will be impossible to get any decisive action on the Restrict Act or any commitment by social media platforms TikTok to shut down political ads masquerading as viral content. And that’s too bad. If TikTok ends up shaping the political narrative in 2024, then we’re all in a lot of trouble.