The White House is turning to TikTok influencers to spread the administration’s message about what is going on in Ukraine.
The “adults in the room” in the Biden-Harris administration are turning to a social media platform that inspires viral dance trends and lipsync videos. Oh, and the app recently settled a $92 million class-action lawsuit for illegally gathering users’ data for marketing and who knows what else. The app has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, but that’s not as much of a concern to this administration as it was to the last one.
This move to use TikTok influencers has the same sort of feel of that moment in the 1980 Reagan/Carter debate when former President Jimmy Carter said that he asked his then 13-year-old daughter Amy what the most important issue was and she said that it was nuclear weapons.
Clearly, it’s not exactly the same. Millions of people weren’t going to Amy Carter to ask her what she thought on the issues of the day, but now random people are posting their thoughts on TikTok and getting a whole lot of attention for it.
The White House has decided that they want to leverage that and do what they can to control the messaging. It’s the West Wing’s attempt to fight “disinformation” by putting out their own propaganda through the use of “influencers.”
Taylor Lorenz reports in the Washington Post:
On Thursday afternoon, 30 top TikTok stars gathered on a Zoom call to receive key information about the war unfolding in Ukraine. National Security Council staffers and White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed the influencers about the United States’ strategic goals in the region and answered questions on distributing aid to Ukrainians, working with NATO and how the United States would react to a Russian use of nuclear weapons…
…The White House has been closely watching TikTok’s rise as a dominant news source, leading to its decision to approach a select group of the platform’s most influential names.
This week, the administration began working with Gen Z For Change, a nonprofit advocacy group, to help identify top content creators on the platform to orchestrate a briefing aimed at answering questions about the conflict and the United States’ role in it. Victoria Hammett, deputy executive director of Gen Z For Change, contacted dozens with invitations via email and gathered potential questions for the Biden administration…
…The briefing was led by Matt Miller, a special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, and Psaki. The Washington Post obtained a recording of the call, and in it, Biden officials stressed the power these creators had in communicating with their followers. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest,” said the White House director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, “so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source.”
Do you recall another time that the White House did this? It was last August to push vaccines for teens before school started.
IMPORTANT: Is this the best way for our public health officials to spend their time in the “midst of a global pandemic” and “Delta variant” panic?
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) August 10, 2021
This was the result:
Still, the White House is committed to continuing to use influencers no matter how cringe-inducing it gets.
Biden has increasingly sought online creators to sell major policy initiatives. The administration worked with dozens of top TikTok stars last year to encourage vaccination. He also hosted a briefing for influencers to educate them about his infrastructure plan. To emphasize the child-care components of his “Build Back Better” initiative, he sat for interviews with two parenting influencers on Facebook Live and YouTube.
Teddy Goff, a founder of Precision Strategies, a consulting firm, said that the White House’s strategy of embracing the next generation of media voices was crucial. “There’s a massive cultural and generational shift happening in media, and you have to have blinders on not to see it,” he said. “The reach of a piece in a traditional news outlet is a fraction of what a big TikToker gets.”
Source: Washington Post
That last statement shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of the power of TikTok. It should be taken as a condemnation of the news media that has become incredibly fractured because of bias and has forced people to turn to alternative sources for information. It’s also a lament that our culture is not all that interested in news, but would rather seek distraction in videos by vapid TikTok influencers.
The thing is, the White House didn’t seem to think it was necessary to vet the content of the influencers that they were trying to influence.
It showed in their briefing.
Here is the recording of the call obtained by the WaPo. (The call begins at around the 4-minute mark.)
The briefing was a basic overview of what’s happening in Ukraine as though you’re explaining it to people who have no clue what is going on. It was a bit infantilizing.
“The energy of the call felt like a press briefing for kindergartners,” said Jules Suzdaltsev, a Ukrainian-born journalist who operates the TikTok news channel “Good Morning Bad News” that has over 1.1 million followers. He said that he thought that the overall tone of the briefing was too soft and that the White House dodged hard questions.
Marcus DiPaola, a TikTok content creator that covers the news, has been reporting on the situation in Ukraine to his 3.5 million followers. He posted a video with a few key takeaways from the meeting with the White House that has garnered over 330,000 views in less than 24 hours.
Khalil Greene, who calls himself an “online educator” with an impressive following of almost 550,000, posts videos on race, culture, all from what you might call a “woke” perspective. Greene also posted a video recap, but at the end he called out the Biden-Harris administration for not acknowledging America’s “role in other occupations, invasions, and bad faith actions around the world.”
I’m sure this is going to go swimmingly for the Biden-Harris administration.
The influencer with the largest following that participated and was mentioned by WaPo is Ellie Zeiler, 18, who has over 10.5 million followers. Unlike the other influencers featured who actually discuss current events, her videos appear to be mostly dances, lipsyncs, and clothing and makeup tutorials. But, according to WaPo, Zeiler said that “she hopes to remain in communication with the White House and continue to press officials there about key issues. She sees herself as a voice for young people.”
“I’m here to relay the information in a more digestible manner to my followers,” said Ellie. “I would consider myself a White House correspondent for Gen Z.”
Someone should tell Ellie that she’s popular not because she’s a “voice of her generation” but because she posts a number of bikini videos and dances in short skirts with lowcut tops, but I suspect she already knows that.
So, we now have the White House using content creators on an app that is connected to the Chinese Communist Party, and they don’t even know what these “influencers” are going to talk about or how they’ll talk about it. It could get very embarrassing for the Let’s Go, Brandon administration.
Good plan, guys! Let’s see how this works out for them.
One question no one seems to be asking… Does Joe Biden even know what TikTok is?
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