Trump’s rise as a TikTok sensation silences the app’s critics

News & Politics

Now that former President Donald Trump has become a TikTok star mere weeks after joining the controversial social media app, opposition to the platform seems to have diminished. Loud China hawks have tempered their arguments that the app poses a national security risk, perhaps because they recognize that the leaders of both parties have embraced the app as a way of expressing protected speech — and maybe reach new voters along the way. Fear mongering from some of these politicians, who never demonstrated there was a credible national security threat, was based on political expediency, not fact.

TikTok, with about 150 million American monthly active users, has become a vital tool for leaders like Trump and Joe Biden to convey their messages. Young people dominate the app, with much of the content featuring singing and dancing as a form of self-expression. However, the app is also emerging as a platform for sharing political and policy messages with the American public. This type of content aligns with the free speech protected by the Bill of Rights.

In a recent post, Trump gleefully vowed: ‘I’m gonna save TikTok.’

Research indicates that TikTok effectively reaches young people who consume news differently than older Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that “a third of U.S. adults — including a majority of adults under 30 — use TikTok.” This includes 62% of adults under 30 and 39% of adults aged 30 to 49.

Trump and his campaign wisely jumped at the chance to reach this typically hard-to-reach audience of younger voters, and they have been wildly successful. He currently has 6.9 million followers on TikTok, with 137 million, 124 million, and more than 15 million views respectively on his first three posts. Mediaite recently summed up this phenomenon: “Trump has since gone significantly further than Biden in his embrace of TikTok; he not only joined the app this month, but has promised to ‘never’ ban the app should he be reelected.” And in a recent post, Trump gleefully vowed: “I’m gonna save TikTok.”

Trump’s move is also increasingly in line with public sentiment. That same Pew Research survey found that “support for a U.S. TikTok ban ha[s] declined,” and there is now only 38% support for a ban, “down from 50% in March 2023.”

Given the massive number of app users across the country, anyone continuing to push for a ban risks running into a wall of unhappy voters. And as election commentators have noted, young people, many who are TikTok users, could determine the winner in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — the three states that may determine a winner overall in November.

In September, two months before the presidential election, the Biden administration will appear before a U.S. federal appeals court arguing for the TikTok ban. This is political malpractice and bad policy. No president, not Biden or Trump, should have the power to infringe on free speech by banning a social media app he doesn’t like.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently highlighted the hypocrisy of politicians who rail against censorship now “advocating for censorship” by supporting a ban. And he correctly emphasized that Americans should “have some faith in freedom” and allow Americans personally to decide whether or not to use the app.

Trump’s joining TikTok may well be the game changer that returns him to the White House. But either way, his move has been a game changer for the debate on a ban. Let’s hope this common sense continues, and we allow freedom of speech to prevail in our country.

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