From The Maga Girls TikTok House to #TeensforTrump, social media is this election’s battleground for Gen Z
Jaylie, a high school student from rural Ohio, won’t be eligible to vote for three more years. That hasn’t stopped her sharing her political opinions to her 98,000 followers on her TikTok, garnered in record time since creating her account in August. While over 200 mostly Gen Z TikTokers have banded together to create TikTok for Biden, and former Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway’s daughter Claudia extols her contrastingly socialist beliefs while mercilessly dragging her mum, the app also plays host to many young conservatives who speak on their beliefs, voicing their frustrations with their liberal peers.
On her account, Jaylie posts videos where she combines viral dance trends with text announcing her stances on controversial political issues, from reproductive rights to gun control. In one of her more popular uploads, she lip syncs while pointing to text that reads: “Want some reasons to unfollow me? All lives matter. Pro gun. Blue lives matter. I love the American and Confederate flag! TRUMP 2020.”
Meme-ing the Republican vote has kicked off on TikTok, where Republican teens are miming to Trump’s soundbites. The Republican Hype House group has amassed over 920,000 followers, with over 31 million likes across its videos.
Jaylie proudly identifies as a Trump supporter, though says she started engaging with politics only a year ago. “I’m not going to lie,” Jaylie tells Dazed, “at first, I started doing research on the Democratic Party. But the more and more I got into it I was like, this isn’t good for our country,” adding, “I did not like (Trump) at first, I did not think he was doing good things.” After reading internet articles and speaking with conservative family members, Jaylie developed her current political sensibilities. “I started talking to my grandpa about it all and he gave me more insight about what he thought about it and helped me.” Jaylie says she admires Trump’s foreign policy as well as his Christian beliefs.
Despite her channel’s apparent success, however, Jaylie says that she’s also been subjected to harassment, including death threats, both on and offline and, as a result, is now homeschooled. “A lot of people come at us like we’re racist or homophobic, and that’s just not true. I don’t have a racist bone in my body. Democrats are all like, ‘We love everybody!’ until someone has a different opinion,” she says. “It’s a lot of hate on the left.”
Republican Barbie, a 16-year-old TikToker from Texas who is also part of the political hype house known as ‘The MAGA Girls’, has also received backlash on the app for vocally supporting Trump. “I don’t even have my first name on my TikTok because I get so many death threats,” she tells Dazed. “I have people saying they want to burn down my house.”
Republican Barbie, like Jaylie, has had personal relationships suffer due to political differences. “I had an old friend make stuff up about me online and post TikToks exposing me with absolutely false information just because of how I identified politically.” She too claims she is judged for her beliefs and is often misunderstood by other teenagers. “People think I’m a racist redneck, that I’m homophobic,” she explains, “but I’m bisexual, I like girls, my most recent relationship was with a woman. I get all sorts of horrible comments like, ‘The LGBTQ+ community no longer claims you. You’re not allowed to be gay because you support Trump’.”
Not only does Republican Barbie say she encounters difficulties with her peers but also with her family members, stating that her mother is a Democrat with whom she often disagrees. “It’s kind of a constant thing,” she says. “I love my mom to death and I know she loves me but when politics get involved it gets heated.” Conversely, Republican Barbie says her conservative father has been supportive of her TikTok, and sometimes helps her brainstorm video ideas.
Other than her father, Republican Barbie cites conservative commentator Candace Owens as one of her major political influences. “I wish Candace Owens would post more on YouTube because I absolutely love her content. I love the short YouTube videos she makes because she’s funny. She has a lot of facts and statistics to back up her arguments while using humor at the same time.” As well as watching Owens’ YouTube account, Republican Barbie makes it a point to consume mainstream media through a skeptical lens as well, stating: “I do watch mainstream stuff, but I take everything with a grain of salt and I always fact check stuff before using it in debates or posting it online, which I don’t think people do enough. If they see it on CNN or Fox News, they’ll think it’s the absolute truth when it’s really not.”
Maxim, a 15-year-old from Colorado, posts political commentary on his YouTube channel, Teens for Trump. Unlike Jaylie and Republican Barbie, Maxim doesn’t mind that people make assumptions about him based on his support for Trump. “I have automatic assumptions about people with other ideas too, so I don’t really blame anyone,” he tells Dazed, “but I do think that it’s more of a problem with people who don’t like Trump supporters being a bit aggressive because of the narrative that’s pushed in the media.” Maxim says he eschews mainstream media and instead watches the work of conservative provocateurs Steven Crowder and Tim Pool.
On his channel, Maxim espouses his belief in Americans’ right to bear arms and advocates for the depoliticisation of what he views as leftist curriculum. “My motivation to start (the channel) was to talk about the experiences I had in middle school where I saw crazy political things in the curriculum, and how teachers were promoting certain ideas. I guess it doesn’t really matter which side they come from, I just don’t believe politics belong in schools,” Maxim says.
Jaylie states she fears Biden “will shut down the country” if elected and that face masks will become legally mandatory. “If he wins, we’ll have to deal,” she says, “but all the hate is going to do something to this country.”
Young people on both the left and right use their social platforms creatively to influence their followers. The tone is usually sharp and comedic, making use of memes, trends, challenges, and the different apps’ functions – like duetting with Trump dancing at a Florida rally, or jumping on a trending audio. This approach, however, bolsters social media’s rampant problem with misinformation and conspiracy – fact-checking a TikTok that’s already gone viral is 2020’s shutting the gate when the horse has already bolted. Last week, TikTok banned all content related to QAnon, but Pizzagate and sex trafficking conspiracies have already ripped through – #Pizzagate posts had been viewed more than 82 million times. Coronavirus hoaxes are also rife.
A staggering 54 per cent of teens claim they get the majority of their news from social media, with celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities having as much influence as a source of current events as friends, family, and news organisations do. With new apps like Triller to contend with too, this election time, it’s important to read widely, ask for sources, and interrogate what you’re watching.