As organizers and socialists, we know that social media is a useful tool in our organizing work. Many leftist organizations use social media to promote events, raise funds, bring awareness to issues, build new audiences and connect ideas and action. TikTok, one of the newer social media platforms, is largely misunderstood and underused by socialists and labour movement activists.
When many people think of the app TikTok they think of a social media platform that young people use to tell stories and jokes. However, there is much more going on, on this social media platform. In a recent study 77% of Gen Z said that TikTok has helped them learn about social justice and politics. In another study 51% of Gen Z said they are getting their news on TikTok. Many young people who are trying to figure out their politics are doing so through social media and specifically TikTok. This creates a unique opportunity for leftists. We have a chance to reach new people and connect with audiences who may be learning about politics for the first time.
With a large right-wing presence on the app, TikTok is very much a contested political terrain. There is a large amount of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and an almost never ending stream of pro-police, pro-military and supporters of the reactionary right. This is exactly why we need a strong left-wing presence on the app. While there is currently a leftwing on TikTok, there is huge room for growth and new creators.
Recently, the Toronto Star published an article highlighting how Jagmeet Singh is making TikToks to reach young Canadian voters. As leftist organizations and organizers we have much to learn from this and need to do our best to keep up with the trends and find ways to reach new audiences. TikTok provides us an opportunity to distill and communicate socialist politics in a way that is accessible to a new generation of radicals.
What makes TikTok different from other social media platforms is that it relies exclusively on the algorithm to show you content and the fact that it is a more personal social media platform. On TikTok you can follow people, but you will see content from people who you don’t follow as the majority of your content. This opens an opportunity to reach people who may have no other reason to interact with your content or find you or your organization.
TikTok is not just a way to spread awareness. Action and organizing can happen via the app as well. For instance, in 2020 TikTok users realized that a Trump rally had free tickets you could register for. The idea to register for the rally spread to thousands, who would make videos showing themselves registering to spread the word and then delete it within 48 hours so Trump’s campaign could not catch on. Trump’s campaign even claimed they had received more than a million ticket requests. However, on the day of the event only 6,200 people showed up to a venue that could hold 19,000. This made headlines and was an embarrassment for the Trump campaign.
On Spring’s TikTok account we have been able to see people sign petitions, make phone calls to politicians, have people asking how to engage in more ways and have created great discussions around issues like a national bus service. We can see how TikTok can connect ideas with action and be a pathway to building movements.
The revolutionary journalism of TikTok
The process of creating and distributing TikToks is the process of revolutionary journalism. It can be a valuable tool in the arsenal of socialist organizing. Sharing ideas about video styles, collectively crafting scripts that distill complex political ideas and relate to current movements helps level up the collective capacity and politics of those making the TikToks, while also building a new audience for those ideas while providing a pathway towards action. Taking TikTok seriously is not only learning how to use it and trying to engage with people via the platform, but also allowing newly radicalizing people to use their own voices on the medium as part of a collective organizing project. The process of TikTok is just as much about organizing ourselves as it is about building our audience.
And because TikTok videos can be easily reposted on other social media platforms, like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, the videos really help to generate content and build audiences via other platforms. Instagram recently announced that they are moving more towards a video platform to keep up with TikTok. This means they will be boosting videos more than pictures. This leads to the perfect opportunity for organizations to start using TikTok and use those videos as ways to keep their content as relevant on other platforms.
As with all social media platforms, content can get suppressed if it touches on certain issues. For example, any text with the word Palestine in it will get suppressed. Luckily there are ways around this like putting asterisks instead of certain letters in the words. This just shows how we must work even harder to make sure this leftist content gets out there.
You never know what video or piece of content someone sees that could motivate them to start getting more involved. As organizers we must utilize all tools we have within our capacity. Staying up to date on trends and trying every possible way to reach the younger generations is crucial in our work. It is too easy to become wedded to traditional ways of communicating our ideas and organizing our work. Being a socialist organizer is about being committed to the process of learning and expanding our knowledge. TikTok creates the perfect chance for organizations and organizers to reach new people and get them involved in our fight.
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