General election via TikTok: Are political campaigns geared towards younger voters working?

  • Amy Sutton has been finding out what influence political campaigns on TikTok are having on first-time voters in Gateshead

The way we consume news has changed dramatically over the years.

The bongs of Big Ben - ringing in ITN's News at 10 - were once a symbol for the tick-tock of news.

But with the rising popularity of social media apps like TikTok, which provides evolving trends, AI generated content and viral videos at your fingertips, there is now a new place for news to reach you.

As such, the 2024 general election has been dubbed by the media as the 'TikTok election', with major parties turning their attention to a new arena in the campaign battleground.

Party leaders are hoping to capture the attention, and votes, of the youngest section of the electorate - a group of people often thought to be uninterested in politics, but hyper-fixated on their phones.

So can campaigning on the likes of TikTok, engage the disengaged?

Not according to some students at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy Sixth Form, in Birtley.

Six first-time voters told ITV Tyne Tees they were all equally unimpressed by the political content geared towards them.

Six first time voters don't think the major party campaigns on TikTok have been a viral hit. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Most notably, a video uploaded by the Official Labour Party account, showing Rishi Sunak struggling to dribble a football through cones, moving on to Keir Starmer on a successful five-a-side, drowned out by comedic football commentary.

Meanwhile Nigel Farage, leader of Reform UK, launched his presence on the app by rapping to Eminem, as Ed Davey implied wetsuits were better than 'wet suits' in a post mocking his infamous fall from a paddleboard in a video which also made light of Rishi Sunak getting drenched during his announcement on Downing Street.

Matthew Ward, Jamie Melton, Chloe Annan, Faye Richardson, Euan Rennie and Lucy McGuinness-Brown are split between being decided and undecided voters - but what they unanimously agree on, is the political campaigns have truly "missed the mark".

Party leaders have been popping up on TikTok during the election campaign. Credit: TikTok, @nigel_farage, @libdems, @uklabour

Political campaigns and the rise of TikTok

Although campaigning online is nothing new, at the last election TikTok was in its infancy.

Records and data of previous electoral online campaigns did not even register the app's relevance.

But now, as a social app and news source it is leading the way, and its importance has been pulling on the purse-strings of each political party hoping to target the youngest voters.

In the fortnight following Rishi Sunak calling the general election, major parties spent more than £2.2 million kickstarting their online campaigns.

Labour topped the list of social media spending, forking out almost double the Conservatives. Credit: ITV News

Despite it being only a matter of months since the House of Commons banned the use of the Chinese-owned TikTok from its Parliamentary network over security concerns, party leaders appear eager to raise their profile on it.

The app, which was previously used by a number of British MPs, was also blocked from devices issued to staff.

But now, given that a report by Ofcom stated 1 in 10 UK adults use TikTok as a source of news, times have quickly changed and canvassing in cyberspace is in swing.

  • Did you know...

ITV News is the only major broadcaster to have a dedicated politics channel on TikTok. The itvpolitics account was launched at the start of the year and has already had 3.5 million likes and reached 745 million people

TikTok is an app primarily used by young people, a study found users aged 16-24 spend an hour a day on the app.

Many of that age group, are heading to the polls for the very first time. And among them, 83% consume news online. 

With 71% saying they use social media to find their news, compared to 47% who use broadcast TV. 

Cue the spin doctors of a digital age conjuring up content to draw youngsters to the ballot box.

That means parties are having to hire the right people to hit the right demographic and make it attractive enough to fill the feeds of young people.

Experts in the field

Sophia Smith Galer is an award-winning journalist and one of the first national broadcasters in the UK who successfully made a name for herself, riding the original wave of TikTok popularity.

Sophia has amassed more than 160 million views on Instagram and TikTok by sharing updates and explainers online - and she’s seen first-hand how the app has evolved over time.

She told ITV News: "One of the most fascinating things that is still mystifying anyone analysing social media and politics is that you cannot pay for political advertising on TikTok.

"This was a unique decision that the platform took years ago ahead of the US Presidential election.

"So why doesn't TikTok want to make money from it? It is possibly the scrutiny that platforms get as a result because they have to make sure not only that these ads are fair, that no one's abusing them, but also that there's no one trying to use them to malevolently influence an election, which is what platforms almost always get accused of doing."

Social media expert Sophia Smith Galer has seen first-hand how TikTok has evolved. Credit: TikTok / @sophiasmithgaler

Despite the controversial tone of the videos, it may be money well spent if the parties are playing the long game.

According to brand specialist James Allen, of Guerilla, a marketing agency in Newcastle, said there is method behind the madness.

He said: "When you think about TikTok being the ongoing party that you're attending, you've got the people which are the content that are attending the party as well.

"Then the host is the algorithm. The host observes you, they might give you something that's general - a bit of sport and cooking for example.

"Then quickly they'll observe you and what your likes are, who you interact with. Then they'll make personal introductions and give you content which is tailored to keeping you on the platform and keeping you engaged."

It has not been lost on TikTok creators, who have ensured the app has stepped up to the mark as a public information provider.

When users log on, they are directed towards how to register to vote, find local polling stations or detect fake news.

It shows some accountability in hosting the youthful party that those across the political spectrum are so desperate to take part in.

But for now, where the young North East voters we spoke to are concerned, the politicians are not set to be a viral hit.

The parties can only hope that the swipes, likes and shares translate into a real life X on the ballot paper on 4 July.

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