Election 2024: Biden campaign embraces TikTok despite President signing law that could ban it

WASHINGTON (AP) – When the president Joe Biden showed his putting during a campaign stop at a public golf course in Michigan last month, the moment was captured on TikTok.

Forced indoors by a rainstorm, he competed with 13-year-old Hurley “HJ” Coleman IV to make putts on a practice mat. The Coleman family posted a video of the proceedings on the app – with Biden making a putt and the teen hitting his own shot in response, with the caption: “I had to sink the rebuttal.” »

The television cameras that usually follow the president were mounted outside.

Biden signed legislation On Wednesday, it could ban TikTok in the United States as his campaign embraced the platform and attempted to work with influencers. Already struggling to maintain the support he had among young voters, the president now faces criticism from some avid users of the app, which researchers say is the primary source of information for a third of voters. Americans under 30.

“There is fundamental hypocrisy on the part of the Biden administration that supports banning TikTok while using TikTok for campaign purposes,” said Kahlil Greene, who has more than 650,000 followers and is known on TikTok as “the historian of Generation Z.”

“I think this illustrates that he and his team know the power and necessity of TikTok.”

The Biden campaign defends its approach and rejects the idea that White House policies contradict its policy efforts.

“We would be foolish to ignore any place where people are getting information about the president,” said Rob Flaherty, who led the White House Office of Digital Strategy and is now deputy director of Biden’s re-election campaign.

Flaherty said Biden’s team built relationships with TikTok influencers during the 2020 election and that the platform has only become more influential since then, “growing as an internet search engine and fueling stories about the president.”

The Biden campaign says an increasingly fragmented modern media environment requires it to meet voters where they are and that TikTok is one of many places potential supporters see its content, in addition to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

He produced his own TikTok content, but also relied on everyday users who interact with the president. That includes a post from a family who ate fries and other ingredients from fast food chain Cook Out during Biden’s recent visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, as well as Coleman’s putting video.

Opponents of TikTok claim it is owned by a Chinese company ByteDance gives Beijing dangerous influence over what Americans see as well as potential access to American user data. China’s national security laws give the ruling Communist Party wide latitude over private companies, although the United States has not made public evidence that the Chinese government manipulated the app or forced ByteDance to carry out its orders.

The law Biden signed Wednesday would force ByteDance to sell the app to a U.S. company within a year or face a nationwide ban. ByteDance argued that the law violated the First Amendment and promised to sue.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, now publicly opposes banning TikTok after issuing an executive order while in office attempting to ban the app if ByteDance did not sell it.

The White House does not have an official TikTok account, and Biden banned the app on most government devices in December 2022. Yet the Biden campaign also officially joined TikTok on the night of this year’s Super Bowl, as the president avoided a traditional television interview on game day. rather broadcast a political message with the platform.

Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki hosted a virtual briefing in 2022 for more than two dozen app influencers to discuss the U.S. approach to Ukraine, a meeting later parodied on “Saturday Night Live” .

There have been many other such events, including a White House influencer party last Christmas and a State of the Union watch party in March. During Biden’s recent campaign, Campaign Raises $26 Million at New York’s Radio City Music Hall with former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, there was an influencer happy hour and after-party where attendees interacted with Biden.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre said the legislation Biden signed “is not a ban. Our national security is at stake. She added that the White House is not saying “we don’t want Americans using TikTok.”

TikTok has 170 million users in the United States and a study published last November by the Pew Research Center found that about a third of U.S. adults under 30 regularly receive news from TikTok, compared to 14% of all adults.

Adults under 30 are more likely than U.S. adults overall to oppose banning the use of TikTok in the United States, according to a report. AP-NORC poll conducted in January. Nearly half of 18-29 year olds are opposed to it, compared to 35% of American adults.

About 2 in 10 U.S. adults reported using TikTok at least once a day, including 44% of 18- to 29-year-olds. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 7% say they use TikTok “almost constantly” and another 28% use it “several times a day.”

Priorities USA, a leading Democratic super PAC, is spending about $1 million this cycle to help fund more than 100 TikTok influencers who are producing pro-Biden content before November, and views the efforts as an extension of traditional initiatives. organization and communication.

Even if TikTok is ultimately banned, most of its influencers are on other platforms that could continue to leverage their content, including YouTube and Instagram, said Danielle Butterfield, executive director of Priorities USA.

“TikTok users are generally online and that represents a lot of different places,” said Butterfield, who was also deputy digital advertising director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Biden, meanwhile, has seen his standing among young people decline. About a third of adults under 30 approve of how he is handling his job as president, according to a AP-NORC poll conducted in March – a sharp drop from around two-thirds approved when he took office.

Greene studied green energy package, where he met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

About a year ago, however, Greene says she began posting about Biden’s support for a sweeping 1994 crime law that activists say has long contributed to the mass incarceration of racial minorities. He also criticized the current Biden administration for what he called “a lack of specific policy for Black Americans.”

Since then, while Greene continues to receive more general emails from the Biden administration, he says he is no longer invited to more personal events while some “creators who waited in line, who are less critical” still go.

Flaherty, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said the campaign has paid influencers in specific cases, such as when their content is used in ads, and that some content creators who work with the campaign have come forward with their concerns. concerns about legislation forcing divestment. But he doesn’t think it will have a major impact on Election Day.

“I think young voters are not going to vote on TikTok,” Flaherty said. “They’re going to vote on issues that are discussed on TikTok, but they’re also discussed elsewhere.”

Greene, however, said younger voters’ frustration with the Biden administration in other areas — particularly its management of the Israel-Hamas war – combined with TikTok divestment legislation to create political problems for Biden.

“I can’t overstate how much this exacerbates the outcry,” he said, “and the discontent that people are already feeling.”


Associated Press writer Linley Sanders contributed to this report.

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