TikTok teens and the Trump campaign: How social media amplifies political activism and threatens election integrity

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The lower-than-expected attendance at President Trump’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 was attributed, at the very least partly, to a web-based military of Ok-pop followers who used the social community TikTok to arrange and reserve tickets for the rally as a method of pranking the campaign.

Similarly, the traditionally unprecedented scale of the George Floyd protests might be attributed partly to social media. By some estimates 25 million Americans participated at protests.

Social media has confirmed itself as a tool for political activism, from on-line boycotts to offline gatherings. It additionally has implications for the way political campaigns function. Social media can assist campaigns with voter targeting efforts, however it will possibly additionally make the electoral course of vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation, together with from overseas actors.

Hijacking hashtags

Social media has enabled protests and meaningful political action by capturing public consideration, and by its decentralized nature, which makes it simpler for activists to evade censorship and coordinate actions. Ok-pop followers’ motion via TikTok spanned greater than every week and stayed off the radar of mainstream media.

TikTok teenagers and Ok-pop followers took over anti-Black Lives Matter hashtags corresponding to #WhiteLivesMatter and drowned out the anti-Black Lives Matter messages with GIFs and memes. When individuals on social media platforms search for these hashtags, they’re met with seemingly never-ending images and fan videos of popular K-pop groups corresponding to Twice and EXO.

This, in flip, leads algorithms on social media platforms to categorise such trending hashtags as K-pop tendencies moderately than political tendencies, thwarting the anti-Black Lives Matter activists who tried to make use of the hashtags to advertise their messages.

Ok-pop followers likewise responded to a call from the Dallas Police Department, who have been making an attempt to gather details about Black Lives Matter protesters from social media, and bombarded them with pictures and movies of their favourite Ok-pop stars.

Influencers and like-minded connections

My own research reveals that there are two mechanisms that make social media influential in digital activism.

First, social media provides an opinion-making role to a couple influencers – individuals who have intensive social media networks. The furor corporations corresponding to Uber and United Airlines aroused on social media for misbehaving was initiated by a handful of people.

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Second, on social media individuals have interaction with like-minded individuals, a phenomenon called homophily.

Together, these mechanisms present a large viewers to each influencers and their followers who’re enmeshed in densely linked on-line networks. As my analysis reveals, as soon as a meme, hashtag or video goes viral, passive sharing can turn into active broadcasting of the trending concept.

For instance, when superstar Jane tweets in help of a viral hashtag corresponding to #BlackOutTuesday, if fan Alyssa retweets this, it’s extra prone to be retweeted by individuals like Alyssa. Jane’s affect is magnified by Alyssa’s capability to affect her social connections. The ensuing activism spirals right into a large-scale on-line motion that’s onerous to disregard.

Social media and political campaigning

Social media’s opinion-making energy and choice for like-minded connections additionally result in online filter bubbles, echo chambers that amplify info persons are predisposed to agree with and filter out info that contradicts individuals’s factors of view. Recent elections within the U.S. and the Brexit vote within the U.Ok. may need been influenced by filter bubbles.

Social media additionally makes it simpler to narrowly goal courses of voters. In 2016 Hilary Clinton’s presidential marketing campaign considerably outspent Donald Trump’s marketing campaign, and the effectiveness of the Trump marketing campaign has been attributed to its ability to target specific groups of Clinton voters with detrimental advertisements.

With internet marketing normally, and with the flexibility to micro-target voters through social media based mostly on detailed demographic information, social media can each assist and hinder political campaigns’ capability to focus on their voters.

Also, political campaigns want good information to create fashions of seemingly voters, which they use to get voters to prove and persuade seemingly voters to vote for his or her candidates. It seems to be like TikTok customers produced a deluge of bad data for the Trump marketing campaign. This type of exercise forces campaigns to spend money and time cleansing up their information.

Social media and election integrity

The energy of social media additionally poses a problem for election integrity. An entity linked to the Russian authorities was reportedly liable for spreading an enormous disinformation marketing campaign that seemingly influenced the 2016 elections. A Senate committee concluded that “these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools” to deliberately manipulate the perceptions of thousands and thousands of Americans.

Likewise, the Tulsa phenomenon underscores that if it’s this simple for a bunch of teenagers to affect turnout in a marketing campaign rally, how simple would it not be for a overseas actor to intrude within the election course of? The election course of, together with how campaigns and observers collect political info, is weak to misinformation and coordinated trolling.

Social media amplifies each the attain and vary of actions obtainable to well-organized, engaged and networked political actors, no matter their intentions. With the pandemic considerably increasing society’s dependence on the internet, these issues are prone to enhance. The query is, when mixed with algorithmic filters and disinformation, how will these forces form the politics of protest and democratic motion within the years forward?