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GOP is banning TikTok because young people are using it to defeat Republicans
GOP wants to stop young people from organizing
Montana’s Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law on Wednesday the first ever ban of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok. The law prohibits downloads of TikTok anywhere in Montana, with the penalty being a fine of $10,000 a day against any company that allows residents to download or access the social media app. Individual users are exempt from the penalty, meaning the fines would primarily target TikTok, Apple and Google.
So why is Gianforte and other Republicans so anxious to ban an app that has 150 million active users in the country and is one of the most popular social media apps for young people? If you believe the Republicans (and you should never, ever believe Republicans) it’s “to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” given Tik Tok is owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance.
But in reality, the reason the GOP is so hellbent on banning TikTok is because they get that young people are using the app to defeat Republicans. That’s not just my view but also Democratic Rep. Jamal Bowman, who I recently interviewed for Salon.com. As Rep. Bowman explained, Republicans are worried about TikTok since it’s being used by younger people who “lean left” to share information on key issues and organize.
First off, more than 60 percent of TikTok users are under 30 years of age and studies show that Gen Z — the teens and 20-somethings born after 1996 — skew overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic. As the GOP knows, it was the stronger-than-expected turnout of these younger voters in the 2022 midterms that was partially credited with not only preventing the “Red wave,” but in helping Democrats win in battleground states. So right off the bat, the GOP gets that the bulk of people using TikTok are opposed to the Republican’s right-wing agenda.
And TikTok—for those unaware—is not just utilized to share short, funny original videos ranging from a chipmunk named “Squishy” eating nuts to entertaining dance numbers to even the making of a full-sized giraffe constructed of chocolate. TikTok has also become a place—as Rep Bowman correctly noted--where young people share their views on a range of political issues “like gun rights, trans rights, women's reproductive rights, climate change, black history and multicultural history.” Studies find about 20 percent of TikTok viewers say they get their political information from the platform.
Beyond that, Democratic officeholders and campaigns have been the ones effectively using TikTok to reach out to young people. Of the nearly 36 members of Congress with TikTok accounts, almost all are Democrats. Beyond that, in the 2022 midterm, almost three times as many Democratic campaigns utilized TikTok than GOP campaigns.
As the Washington Post noted in an article last month, “Democrats have so successfully cultivated TikTok clout and the soapbox it provides for young voters — in contrast to Republicans’ far less enthusiastic embrace — that party operatives are now drawing up detailed plans to dramatically expand its use in the 2024 campaign.”
Aidan Kohn-Murphy, the 19-year-old founder of Gen-Z for Change, a coalition of creators formerly known as TikTok for Biden, put it well: “Ditching something that has proven to be incredibly helpful to winning elections is like shooting yourself in the foot.”
Even Biden’s own administration has on multiple occasions invited young TikTokers to the White House to help amplify their message on a range of issues from Covid vaccines to climate goals. Why? Simple, it’s an effective way to reach younger people who are increasingly not watching cable news. In fact, a recent Pew Study found that people ages 18 to 29 are the least likely age group to subscribe to cable TV, with only 34 percent doing so compared to 80 percent plus of people 50 and over.
Are there valid concerns about the Chinese government harvesting data? Yes. That is why Rep. Bowman supports “a comprehensive federal piece of legislation that looks at safety, security, privacy, mental health on social media.” But Bowman explained, he has not “received any congressional briefings” that supports the idea of “Chinese espionage as it relates to TikTok.”
Banning TikTok from government phones, computers, though, would make sense given concerns about the Chinese government potentially gathering data, despite claims by the CEO of TikTok before Congress in March that is not happening.
But when you hear the GOP say TikTok should be banned to protect us from the threat posed by the Chinese government, keep in mind how the GOP has justified voter suppression efforts based on the lie of voter fraud. The GOP has peddled that lie to enact voter suppression laws with almost “surgical precision” to make it harder for people to vote who are going to cast a vote against them.
Now the GOP has its eyes set on suppressing younger voters---and they are not even trying to hide it. During a GOP donor’s retreat in April, Cleta Mitchell, a longtime GOP lawyer who worked closely with Donald Trump to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, warned the audience that young voters are increasingly voting for Democratic candidates so that they have to make it harder for them to vote. For example, Mitchell complained that polling places are too close to dormitories, which allows students to simply "roll out of bed, vote and go back to bed." Consequently, she proposed that GOP controlled states change the law to reduce the ease in which younger people can vote, such as in Idaho where Republicans in March passed a law to ban student ID cards as a form of voter identification.
The GOP’s desperation to ban younger votes was on display again last week when Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy proposed raising the legal voting age to 25. The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age from 21 down to 18—but now Republicans want to repeal that because young people are voting Democratic.
It is in this context the GOP’s lust to ban TikTok must be viewed. There are ways to protect our data from being accessed by TikTok—as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc. The GOP’s proposed ban of TikTok is not about that—just like their vote suppression laws are not about “voter integrity.” It’s simply because the GOP gets that younger people are using TikTok to amplify issues like reproductive freedom, more laws to save lives from gun violence, addressing climate change and a robust democracy. All the things the GOP opposes.
As I’ve repeatedly stated on my SiriusXM show: The GOP’s right-wing beliefs never change, only their tactics do. Banning TikTok—like the GOP’s voter suppression laws--is simply the latest effort by the GOP to win elections by rigging the system.
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