TikTok teens are transforming the political landscape

Published:26 June 2020

Dr Karena Menzie-Ballantyne is a researcher in active and global citizenship.

Social media has given teenagers the ability to become a new generation of political activists - with phone apps like TikTok embraced as a powerful tool to support their political beliefs or spark change.

That's according to CQUniversity researcher Dr Karena Menzie-Ballantyne who believes teens have more power than ever before when it comes to influencing politics.

“This new generation are digital natives. They have grown up with social media their entire lives and know how to capitalise it.

“We have seen a surge in socially-minded content, from climate change to the Global Citizen movement, and are now using the platform to impact the political system,” she said.

The New York Times reported that a recent political rally held in Tulsa Oklahoma by United States President Donald Trump was squandered by TikTok users and K-pop fans (followers of South Korea’s pop music scene) who inflated attendance expectations by registering for the rally with no intention of attending.

The difference in figures, with over 1M registrations and only 6,200 attendees, confirmed that social media–savvy campaigns can act as a catalyst for social change. While critics have dismissed these actions as a practical joke, the CQU academic argued that targeting the Trump event demonstrated a collaborative interest in political agenda.

“It has been questioned whether online activism leads to real change, however, this is evidence that it can lead to practical action. Their collaborative efforts could have been used railroad any event, but this ‘prank’ demonstrated there was an interest in politics to begin with.

“Democracies such as the United States tend to have low turnout rates for young voters, but in contrast, TikTok Demographics showed underage users are a key audience on the platform with 41 per cent of TikTok users aged between 16 and 24.

“Youth have embraced social media as a platform to voice their political agendas and even provide a voice in mainstream politics for those who do not have a formal vote,” Dr Menzie-Ballantyne said.

As global connectivity has soared, a strong sense of community is fostered online, outside of traditional networks which can expose youth to different points of view, progressive policies and allow them to show support for causes.

“TikTok, in particular, can rally large support with exposure to a huge audience. On the main feed, you see content from people you don't know as well as from friends and family.

“Equipped with a more comprehensive view of the world, Generation-Z does not operate in just one sphere - they have a local, national and global mindset.”

This global mindset has built the concept of global citizenship – the idea that individuals belong to a single moral community that transcends geography or political borders resulting in a cross-cultural impact on national politics.

“K-Pop fans have claimed to be a driving force behind the rally boycott, and while Korean pop music and American politics seem to be contrasting entities it shows how the global community can cause diverse and far-reaching influence.

“School strike 4 climate began in Australia before spreading to an international level. It became a collective voice of high school students across the world on political reform for climate change.”

As global citizenship continues to emerge Dr Menzie-Ballantyne explained how the future of the political landscape will change as youth become disengaged with the parties, but more engaged with issues

“Young people are interested in politics, just not in the traditional sense. Raised in an era of false promises from political parties resulted in distrust in the political system to represent them and their views. They don’t align themselves with one party instead, they latch onto issues at a grassroots level.

“Even before teens can go to the polls, they share their political and civic identities on social media derived from the issues they value.”