Monday, January 4th, 2021
Senate elections in Georgia
How Tiktok is helping the US Democrats
From Kevin Schulte
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th. How much power the Trump successor can exercise in office will be decided in two Senate runoff elections in the state of Georgia. The Democrats hope, among other things, for the mobilization effect of Tiktok.
Joe Biden versus Donald Trump – the election thriller has been over for almost two months. Whether Trump still admits his defeat or continues to believe in election fraud does not matter: Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States.
But an important decision is yet to be made. Two runoff elections to the US Senate will take place this Tuesday in the US state of Georgia. Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face up against Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
How successfully and consistently Biden can implement his political plans depends on the outcome of the elections. This is difficult to do without a majority in both chambers of Congress. The Democrats currently have 48 seats in the Senate and the Republicans 50. If both Georgia runoff elections go to the Democrats, there will be a stalemate. In the event of a tie in the Senate, Vice President-designate Kamala Harris would have the casting vote from the Democrats.
Georgia, a deep red – i.e. Republican – state for many years, overturned in the presidential election in November. For the first time since Clinton 1992, Joe Biden has again won the state as a Democrat. The Democrats want to repeat this coup in the Senate elections. Among other things, with the help of many young voters who are mainly mobilized via social media. The best example is Tiktok, says lawyer and IT security expert Dennis-Kenji Kipker from the University of Bremen.
In the ntv podcast “Another thing learned”, Kipker explains that Tiktok is becoming more and more important for the parties. “Well-known networks like Facebook have to be careful, I don’t want to say now, but it is true that younger people are running away from Facebook a bit.” For this reason, the parties would try to “influence the formation of political opinion” at Tiktok as well.
The app primarily appeals to very young people, including first-time voters. “As a political party, of course, you have to look at how you can best address these people. And that is not primarily done via Facebook or Instagram, but rather via media that the very young people use. In this case, that’s Tiktok.”
The Chinese platform is anything but undisputed in the United States. Donald Trump wanted to ban the app entirely, accusing the operator Bytedance of passing on user data to the Chinese leadership. A sale of the US division of Tiktok has been called for for a long time.
Paid election advertising prohibited
The principle of Tiktok is very simple: Download the app, open it and watch. You only have to register if you want to make short videos yourself. Then select the right music, switch on the smartphone camera and off you go. You have 15 seconds to dance to the music, to sing playback or to fool around. Or – as in this case – to express one’s political opinion.
However, the freedom of action for the parties on Tiktok is severely limited. Paid election advertising is prohibited on the platform. The parties therefore have to get creative, says Kipker. “It is of course not forbidden for people to post their own political opinions. In the context of freedom of expression, there are of course a variety of ways to express one’s political views.”
An example: Young pro-democracy activist groups use Tiktok to spread memes and videos that make fun of US President Trump and call for the election of the Democrats. Under the “TikTok For Biden” account, over 200 young Tiktokers have come together to mobilize young people to vote.
Basically, having a high turnout helps Democrats. That was the case in the presidential election, and it could also be the case in the Senate by-elections in Georgia: 2.8 million people in “Peach State” cast their votes before election day on January 5th. For comparison: in the 2008 Senate election, only 2.1 million people voted.
The rising voter turnout is partly due to the Corona crisis. Voting has been simplified. But young people are also becoming more political – because of the extreme polarization and because the Democrats are mobilizing many young people. “Society in the USA is very divided. And of course the younger people are also concerned about the future,” says Dennis-Kenji Kipker. You have to see the importance of the young voters. “Many of them have an impressive number of followers at Tiktok, among other things. Politicians and parties shouldn’t underestimate that.”
23,000 new first-time voters since November
23,000 people in Georgia came of age in the two months between the presidential election and the Senate runoff election, according to the Civics Center, an organization that aims to mobilize young people to vote. Those 23,000 people will not be enough for the Democrats to fill the void in the Senate races. Republican Senator Perdue was 86,000 votes ahead of challenger Jon Ossoff in the first ballot. In the second duel, the Democrat Raphael Warnock won the most votes, but there were two challengers on the Republican side who stole hundreds of thousands of votes from each other.
Whether the Tiktok mobilizations will help the Democrats win remains questionable. The only thing that is certain is that it will run out again. And maybe it will take longer than expected to get a result.
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