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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Donald Trump, TikTok Star – The Atlantic

Donald Trump has officially joined TikTok. His first video, posted on Saturday night—his only post so far—is a montage showing the former president making the rounds at a UFC fight in New Jersey. He waves to fans and takes pictures with them while Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass” plays in the background.

Trump—who has appeared on WrestleMania, perfected his image on reality television, and commanded the world’s attention through a demagogic Twitter account—is made for this. His account already has more than 4 million followers; the account belonging to the Biden campaign, created in February, trails far behind with about 349,000. It is a sign that social media may once again be used for political warfare by a man who poses an existential threat to American democracy; what might be shocking will instead be played for laughs and engagement on a platform that Trump attempted to ban as president.

In 2020, Trump signed an executive order that would have banned TikTok if it didn’t find a U.S. buyer—over concerns that the Communist Party of China might be able to use the app to access “Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” (President Joe Biden eventually revoked that ban, which was never enacted; he later signed a bill that would similarly ban the app if it is not divested from its Chinese parent company.) In March, Trump reportedly softened his stance on a TikTok ban and said that Facebook is an “enemy of the people.”

This change in attitude should surprise no one. Trump’s political career is and always has been a circus; all that seems to matter is whether people are watching, even if they’re filled with disgust. TikTok, which is defined by endlessly scrolling short-form, edited video, will play to his strengths. In the real world, when he speaks at campaign rallies, he is meandering, often devolving into gibberish. Here, all of that can be massaged away in favor of dramatic supercuts, just like the one he posted over the weekend.

Trump is, in a sense, already all over TikTok; MAGA fans are constantly sharing political commentary and remixes of his speeches. By setting up his own account, Trump now has the opportunity to steer the narrative himself even more directly. His first TikTok post came just two days after a jury in New York convicted him on all 34 felony counts against him, which the post makes no mention of.

Trump’s videos, if he continues to post on the platform, will reach a crucial voting population. Polls have shown that Biden is struggling with voters ages 18 to 29—precisely TikTok’s sweet spot. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in that age group say they use the platform, many of them for news. An internal TikTok report found nearly twice as many pro-Trump posts on the platform as pro-Biden posts since November, according to Puck.

These days, it’s perfectly normal for a presidential candidate to join social media—they need to be wherever their constituents are. But remember: This is a candidate who was banned from Twitter and Facebook as a sitting president after his calls to violence around the January 6 riot, though his accounts were later reinstated. He will almost surely test TikTok’s moderation rules. (The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Meanwhile, he will slot himself right in alongside the rest of the app’s standard viral fare, as if all of this is normal, even if it’s very much not.

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