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Potential Ban on TikTok Threatens Biden’s Reach to Young Voters

If President Joe Biden keeps his promise to sign a ban on TikTok over its ties to the Chinese government, the 81-year-old may undermine his reelection campaign’s access to a platform relied upon by him and fellow Democrats to engage younger voters.

On Tuesday, Biden’s campaign garnered thousands of “likes” for a TikTok video criticizing Republican opponent Donald Trump’s stance on Social Security spending. However, the focus in the comments shifted to concerns over the proposed ban.

“Good thing we saw this on TikTok,” remarked one user, while another queried, “How are you going to use this to campaign if you ban it?”

House Republicans, on Wednesday, passed a bill compelling TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest its 170 million user U.S. business or face a ban. Biden has pledged to sign it if the Senate approves.

The 2024 campaign is expected to be tight, and political strategists note that Democratic-leaning discourse online has increasingly gravitated towards TikTok. This shift comes as platforms like X (formerly Twitter) have relaxed harassment restrictions under owner Elon Musk, and Facebook has moved away from political content, whereas TikTok has become the preferred platform for a politically engaged younger generation.

TikTok’s user base skews towards groups that reliably vote for Democrats, crucial for Biden’s electoral strategy. Notably, Trump’s campaign lacks an official TikTok presence.

According to a 2023 Pew Research Center study, approximately 60% of TikTok’s regular U.S. news consumers identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, with significant representation from Black and Hispanic communities compared to the general population. Additionally, about 44% of TikTok’s news consumers fall within the 18-29 age bracket.

Samuel Woolley, a journalism professor, warns that banning TikTok risks disenfranchising a significant portion of the electorate from meaningful political discourse during a contentious election.

“We voted Joe Biden in through social media, through the power of TikTok,” noted NaomiHearts, a prominent TikTok user, highlighting the platform’s role in boosting youth voter turnout in 2020.

A ban would deprive young voters of their favorite social media platform for news, entertainment, and engagement, emphasized Dr. Anthony Youn, a popular TikTok influencer.

While concerns about national security regarding China have prompted the proposed ban, TikTok denies sharing user data with China and argues that the ban would infringe on Americans’ right to free expression.

Biden’s reelection campaign recently joined TikTok to connect with young voters, but White House officials remain unconcerned about the ban’s impact on the campaign’s prospects, emphasizing national security considerations.

Despite federal employees being prohibited from using TikTok on work phones, Biden campaign staff members are allowed to have the app on personal devices. However, most staff members with ties to the White House use separate phones to engage with TikTok, mitigating potential security risks.

The campaign emphasizes reaching voters where they are, indicating a wait-and-see approach to the ban’s fate in the Senate.

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