TikTok is the latest political battlefield in the 2020 election, with groups on the left and right, as well as nonpartisan civic organizations, putting money behind TikTok creators to turn out the youth vote.
Leading up to Election Day, political operatives have rallied TikTok creators – some of whom were previously apolitical on the app – to focus on politics and voting.
A Democratic political action committee, called The 99 Problems, founded by a number of creative leaders in the music, fashion and entertainment industry, launched the House of US, a virtual hype house to get out the vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Michael “Kiko” Akiko, a founding member of the group, said members of The 99 Problems came together over the summer to “vent frustrations about everything going on” at the height of the protests for racial justice and in the middle of quarantine. “We all challenged each other to stop complaining and instead take action.”
After researching the 2016 election, the group decided to focus on young voters in 2020, hoping to boost voter turnout. They soon recognized TikTok as an effective channel through which to reach young people.
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“We know that Gen Z listens to Gen Z more than anyone else,” Katie Longmyer, a 99 Problems co-founder and a former chief of staff to the co-founder of WeWork, said.
Since then, the House of US has convened several TikTok creators to push get-out-the-vote and pro-Biden/Harris content on the app. The House of 99 would not disclose to CNN how much they were paying the creators.
Meanwhile on the right, Today is America, a company built around supporting President Donald Trump, has funneled support to Republican Hype House, an account run by three young Americans eager to contradict the notion that all young people are liberals, its founders say.
Ricky Taylor, a military veteran and president of Today is America, immediately recognized the political power of TikTok, he told CNN.
In addition to making his own videos, Taylor oversees an umbrella network under Today is America of more than 150 different influencers.
“On TikTok, you have up to a minute to capture someone’s attention and keep it,” he said. “It’s kind of like an ad, or a lot of people say it’s propaganda, but that’s just the way that you can garner attention.” Taylor did not disclose how much the company was paying the TikTokers.
Not all of the political groups organizing on TikTok align with a party.
For its part, Bigtent Creative, a digital production company, is paying small sums of money to micro-influencers to get out the vote. Bigtent started its nonpartisan work on TikTok this summer, and has grown in scale since. Now, the company says it’s working to “bring new engagement to politics.”
Ysiad Ferreiras, who took over as Bigtent’s CEO in August, has been at the forefront of new voter engagement techniques for years. Ferreiras, who has worked on voter and civic engagement initiatives over the years says TikTok is unlike any other platform for voter engagement, in large part due to its reach and accessibility.
Ahead of the 2020 election, Bigtent has registered 25,240 voters, Ferreiras told CNN. Ninety-one percent of those new voters are under the age of 26, he said.
Many of the creators Bigtent works with had already been posting on TikTok about a number of different social and political issues before getting involved with the organization. According to Ferreiras, the creators Bigtent works with were already motivated to turn out the vote before they were contacted by Bigtent.
“They’re excited and proactive about using every means that they have at their disposal to spread out the messaging.”