Younger State Lawmakers in Kansas, Missouri Harness The Unusual Energy Of TikTok | KCUR 89.3
TikTok is in a strange corner of the internet, triggering short-lived trends like dancing to a voicemail from a poisonous ex or the Step Chickens Cult.
The social media app has also engaged President Donald Trump, who tried to ban them, and U.S. Senator from Missouri Josh Hawley, who sponsored a bill to ban workers from having TikTok on government devices.
And while long-established politicians aren’t particularly keen on using the app, younger ones like upcoming Kansas State Representative Christina Haswood and Missouri State Representative Andrew McDaniel reach younger audiences, have fun and sometimes watch short videos ( 60 seconds or less) bring donations and national awareness. Some researchers even believe the app will revolutionize political communication.
“I don’t think I’m young enough for TikTok.”
Haswood, 26, will be one of the youngest members of the Kansas Statehouse in 2021. A year ago when she first got a TikTok account, half of its daily users were estimated to be 14 years or under, according to the New York Times.
“I was around 25 when I came to TikTok and I said, ‘I don’t think I’m young enough for TikTok,” said Haswood.
But during their campaign to represent part of Lawrence and Baldwin City, it was another way of getting their message across.
Also, one of Haswood’s Democrats’ main opponents, AJ Stevens, had an account that was run by his interns. He had more than 1 million pieces on a video pretending to be a windmill and a house to draw attention to the activities he is supporting (renewable energy and affordable housing).
High school senior Conner Thrash heard about Haswood’s campaign – despite living in Concordia about three hours away – and reached out to her to ask if he could help.
“She had the skills, it just took a teenager to get her on the trendy side of TikTok,” said Thrash.
As a TikTok manager, Thrash kept an eye on popular trends.
“I’ll say, ‘OK, think Connor. How can you do that politically? “He said,” and how can you keep it like PG? “
Do a deep house remix of Taylor Swift’s “Love Song”. The trend – as early as July – was for your camera to pan in the middle of the song to demonstrate your suggestive dance moves. Instead, Haswood was in full swing when the text appeared outlining her priorities such as expanding Medicaid and legalizing Pot.
It worked. This video of state law priorities in a tiny county at Kansas House received roughly a quarter of a million likes.
Part of Haswood’s success in reaching out to this young audience was likely that more people like Thrash were spending time on the app during the pandemic.
“I was always at home, always in my bed, bored. And TikTok – it will sound so cheesy – TikTok really helped me keep it up, “said Thrash. “It’s hard to maintain good mental health when you’re trapped at home and living through a global pandemic as a high school student.”
For others, like Missouri’s McDaniel, the extra time led him to test TikTok. The 36-year-old Deering lawmaker in the Bootheel liked the conservative humor he found.
“Late night talk shows that make fun of Donald Trump all the time are getting old,” McDaniel said.
His account doesn’t take itself too seriously. McDaniel doesn’t use it for campaign purposes and has fewer than 2,000 followers. His videos are a mix of snapshots of his work at the Capitol, sharing his love for his mother, and having fun with Democrats. There’s also a lot of lip-syncing and dancing to popular songs like “River”, “Ballin ‘(Country Version)” and a remix of “Still DRE”.
Kevin Munger, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, says that typically less established politicians like lawmakers can take the risk of being an early technology adapter.
“I haven’t seen that many politicians on the app, but I think that makes sense,” said Munger, who studies TikTok. “… It’s not that (President-elect) Joe Biden can physically step on TikTok and start dancing.”
The Trump Effect
Conservative politicians railed against TikTok this year, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Trump tried to lock the app, despite attempts by his administration to be unsuccessful. In a November interview with “60 Minutes”, Hawley said that TikTok may be required under Chinese law to share user data with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok, with its millions of Gen Z fans, appears to be a bubble of liberal opinion, especially after it was used to raise expectations for Trump’s June election campaign. But with the increasing popularity of the app, older people are jumping on the scene: According to the New York Times, the population group of under 14s now accounts for an estimated third of users.
An academic analysis of roughly 8,000 political TikToks in the US found that Republican accounts created more videos and received more likes and comments than Democratic accounts. The study, which viewed videos from March 2019 to February 2020, also found that Trump hashtags are more popular than the combined views of similar hashtags for Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
Juan Carlos Medina, data scientist at the Technical University of Munich, is one of the authors of the paper. He’d wondered if Trump supporters would stop using TikTok because of Trump’s disapproval, but it didn’t. He said, “They were still making videos for Trump.”
That includes McDaniel, who also believes politicians (like Hawley) who raise concerns about the app’s potential security threat are only trying to advertise.
“There are so many different forms of national security threats that they just jump on anything to get on the bandwagon so they can get media attention,” he said. Hawley’s office did not comment on McDaniel’s criticism.
That attention, McDaniel would know a thing or two. In a TikTok, he referred to national news about a bill he proposed requiring young people to own an AR-15. The bill was not serious; He made a point about government mandates. The text overlays the video: “If you troll libraries harder than Donald J. Trump.”
In another video, he pointed to an amendment that he proposed requiring state officials to be stoned before “entering the Chamber or voting on laws”. Again he trolled his colleagues and pointed out how elected officials were addressing amendments.
TikTok’s “untapped potential”
Medina said American TikToks are more partisan than what he sees in Germany, realizing that the short videos “could change the way political communication takes place on social media”.
On Twitter and Facebook, users can write rants or link to stories. But like YouTube, TikTok is a video platform and the user becomes content. TikTok’s algorithm allows just about anyone to go viral, and you don’t need to have a lot of followers – your content just needs to be engaging.
There is a lot of “untapped potential” for politicians in the app, said Thrash.
“Christina (Haswood) not only received recognition from her TikTok, she also received donations, she was committed,” said Thrash. “She won volunteers, she won interviews.”
Thrash also runs the Kansas High School Democrats’ TikTok account, where he talks about what it’s like to be liberal in a predominantly conservative area. And as a gay man, Thrash said the political climate has been challenging in recent years, but he’s been encouraged by politicians like Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Many of us … belong in these positions.”
Once Haswood takes office, she plans to use her TikTok account to give followers a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process.
“I really want to create that level of transparency, but a level of reality that includes many of us younger people, people of color, young women, young women of color and indigenous peoples,” said Haswood.
Haswood is a member of the Navajo Nation and will be one of only three Native American women in the Kansas Statehouse next year. In her videos, she celebrates Native American Heritage Month, posts about the struggle for minority rights, and responds to criticism received during the campaign, including one person who tells her they use their “skin color for popularity.” “Used.
(Note: This video has an explanation.)
Haswood feels more comfortable on TikTok compared to other social media platforms because they didn’t feel as much pressure to filter themselves.
“My whole life has focused on this fine line of western society, being an indigenous woman and learning my traditional knowledge and culture, which is not unusual. That’s what we all indigenous peoples have to do today, ”Haswood said. “… I really wanted to highlight this on TikTok.”
She is partly inspired by Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, another Native American woman who took advantage of TikTok. Her account gained more than 16,000 followers despite running for recorders in Pima County, Arizona. Monitoring voter registration and early voting is an important job, but it’s not an office that usually gets a lot of attention.
Cázares-Kelly is a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation and a longtime activist and educator. She co-founded Indivisible Tohono, an organization that focuses on civic engagement. But when she started advertising, she had some supporters, mostly white, who told her not to bring up her community work.
“Even people who supported me came and said to me, ‘You have to tone down the natives,” said Cázares-Kelly.
It shook her confidence and said she had to make the conscious choice to be “no apology” Indian. For her third TikTok, she zooms by on a scooter in a traditional red outfit with white ribbons and yells, “Sorry, I’m local. Get through! “
More than 100,000 people watched the video and the image became the symbol of the campaign, printed on posters, stickers and buttons.
“Leaving this office, which is a bit dark for this very visible campaign, had largely to do with this mantra and the idea, ‘I am an indigenous woman who can get through with or without your permission, whether you believe it or not I belong there, ”said Cázares-Kelly.
Cázares-Kelly and Haswood both hope their reports show indigenous pride. And Haswood sees it as a way to reach people who may not feel that their voice is important. It is something that is personal to them. She only voted in the 2016 elections.
“How are you going to tell this group of indigenous peoples to join the system that has oppressed them for so long,” said Haswood, “and tell them to trust him?”