TikTok Is Seeing an Increasing Amount of Pro-Trump Posts

TikTok Is Seeing an Increasing Amount of Pro-Trump Posts


Donald Trump isn’t on TikTok.

And he may not need to be, as his allies and surrogates transform it in his favor. The social-media platform, though still regarded as a hub for Democratic voices and liberal causes, has seen an uptick of right-wing, pro-Trump influencers since the last presidential election.

The increase comes as President Biden signed legislation that would force a sale of TikTok by its Chinese owner or would have it banned in the U.S. That law has triggered a backlash from young voters who backed Mr. Biden overwhelmingly in 2020, some of whom are also opposing his administration’s support of Israel’s war in Gaza. An internal analysis within TikTok found nearly twice as many pro-Trump posts as pro-Biden ones on the platform since November: 1.29 million pro-Trump posts versus 651,000 pro-Biden posts.

“If we allow the Democrats and the leftist organizations and leftist influencers to have a monopoly on the content that’s produced on TikTok, we will lose the next generation of Americans,” said C.J. Pearson, a social-media influencer with nearly 149,000 followers on TikTok who co-chairs the Republican National Committee’s youth advisory council.

But TikTok still presents challenges as the former president seeks to regain the White House.

Among the right, TikTok’s reach remains overshadowed by that of other social media platforms. Although a super PAC backing Mr. Trump joined TikTok this month, it remains unclear whether his unpopularity with young voters, who are on the platform in large numbers, will make it difficult for him to find widespread support. And Republican politicians — including Mr. Trump — have largely resisted joining the platform, with many having vocally opposed it.

Mr. Trump didn’t just oppose TikTok: He attempted to ban it several times as president, citing security concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership as young people used it to mobilize against him in 2020. Yet over the last month, TikTok has become part of his message to young people — that they should support him to protect their access to the platform.

“Young people, remember: Crooked Joe Biden is the one that wants to take your TikTok away from you,” Mr. Trump said this month in a video posted to Truth Social, his social media site. “So if you’re young and you’re smart,” he added, “vote for Donald Trump.”

TikTok has amassed roughly 170 million American users, the company’s chief executive told the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. The Center for Campaign Innovation, a conservative nonprofit, found after the 2022 midterms that a growing number of Republicans, particularly young and pro-Trump voters, were active on the app — though it was still behind Facebook, YouTube and other platforms.

Make America Great Again Inc., a super PAC promoting Mr. Trump’s presidential bid, joined this month under the handle @MAGA. Taylor Budowich, the group’s chief executive, said that it would “not cede any platform to Joe Biden and the Democrats.”

With about 14,000 followers, the account has shared content from Mr. Trump’s rallies, as well as videos criticizing Mr. Biden and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate. It’s had a sluggish start, with only a couple of viral videos so far. By comparison, Mr. Biden has about 326,000 followers on TikTok and Mr. Kennedy has an audience of 1.2 million.

Other, more successful, pro-Trump content on TikTok has varied. “Fan-cam” videos stitch together footage of Mr. Trump’s appearances set to music. Conservative influencers comment on subjects such as immigration and L.G.B.T.Q. rights, backing Mr. Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail. And some users post content mocking Mr. Biden and other Democrats.

While Mr. Trump has long been active on social media, some allies argue that he does not need to use TikTok for his message to spread. They point to footage of Mr. Trump attending Ultimate Fighting Championship matches and college tailgates that has drawn viewership on the platform.

“From an organic standpoint, President Trump is trouncing Biden without ever having to download the app himself,” said Alex Bruesewitz, a Republican digital strategist who supports Mr. Trump. “If he gets on there, obviously he will crush it, but there’s already all of these different content creators that do pro-Trump content for him for free.”

The Trump campaign has remained noncommittal on whether it will make an account.

But John Brabender, a media consultant to Mr. Trump’s campaign who focuses on young voters, said they have thanked supportive influencers and informed them of rallies, calling them the “online reporters of today’s generation.” And he sees Mr. Biden’s critics as being the “strongest content” on social media: The president’s recent TikTok posts have been inundated with negative comments that are visible in the app.

“We have a wide range of pro-Trump, younger advocates that are on there, spreading the word and sharing content that gets shared wide-range, so we feel comfortable that we have a significant presence,” Mr. Brabender said. “But we’re always evaluating how to increase that presence.”

TikTok may still play a role in hurting Mr. Trump’s re-election bid, however. Polls show that even as he may have made gains with young voters, he remains unpopular with them, many of whom lean left on issues like abortion and gun control. There is plenty of anti-Trump content on the app, including viral videos warning about Mr. Trump’s plans for a second term. The Biden campaign has maintained a steady stream of content criticizing Mr. Trump, whom it views as an animating force among voters, including young people who might not remember his presidency.

“We are reaching Gen Z voters across the internet with content tailored for them, created by our own Gen Z staff,” said Parker Butler, the Biden campaign’s director of digital rapid response. “Every day, our TikTok account continues to produce sustained content that is being engaged with and picked up beyond the platform by earned media.”

And TikTok is still not a dominant platform on the right. Instead, the app is often used as an editing tool to repackage shorter bits of right-wing narratives to share on Rumble, X and other platforms, said Cristina López G., a senior analyst at Graphika.

Trump-aligned influencers on TikTok often have a fraction of their audiences on Facebook, X or Instagram, even as some conservative stars have gained large followings. The Dilley Meme Team, a group of right-wing content creators who support Mr. Trump, does not distribute content on TikTok as often as it does on X and other platforms, Ms. López G. said.

Some conservative influencers complain that their content is often taken down on TikTok. TikTok removes content that violates its community guidelines, including “disinformation or misinformation that causes harm to individuals, our community or the larger public.” TikTok also prohibits paid political content, which includes restricting users from “receiving payment to create political content.”

Mr. Trump’s changed stance on TikTok — which came shortly after a brief meeting with Jeff Yass, a Republican megadonor and TikTok investor — has raised broader questions about whether the party’s candidates should be active there, a source of disagreement among G.O.P. consultants.

Because the app’s algorithms are tailored to the user, it is difficult to tell whether content will reach viewers not already politically engaged on the right. Emily Wilson, a conservative influencer with nearly 97,000 followers on TikTok, posts videos commenting on pro-Palestinian protests, feminism and other issues while also supporting Mr. Trump. Ms. Wilson said that her content was frequently removed and she views the platform as left-leaning, but she saw TikTok as a place for conservatives to broaden their outreach.

“I don’t think a lot of people on the right shift votes, but I think I do,” she said, pointing to what she described as the “real” nature of her videos, often filmed in her car in a conversational tone.

Andrew Mullins, a Republican digital strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, argued that the platform offered a unique opportunity to engage with millions of voters.

“There are segments where there’s no overlap between TikTok audiences and Facebook and Twitter audiences, so when we’re talking to TikTok audiences, we’re talking to entirely new people that are tough to reach elsewhere,” he said.

Many Republicans are not sold. There are no sitting G.O.P. members of Congress with official accounts on TikTok, compared with many Democratic members. The only Republican presidential candidate there, Vivek Ramaswamy, had previously called it “digital fentanyl” and was attacked by his G.O.P. primary opponents after joining in September.

Courtney Hope Britt, the national chairman of College Republicans, said that while some college chapters used TikTok, the national organization had no plans to join because of security concerns over its Chinese ownership.

Amanda Carey Elliott, a G.O.P. digital consultant, called TikTok a “good boogeyman for us as a party,” saying that she viewed the platform as a better issue, rather than medium, to message on.

She questioned whether TikTok engagement would translate to support, saying, “It’s important to foster that next generation of conservative activists, but we also need them to be voters, too.”



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