Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Potential TikTok ban comes as app’s influence on Wisconsin elections grows

Experts say young political influencers on TikTok play vital role in impacting public opinion, voter behavior
Jacob Duran

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill March 13 that would force the Chinese company ByteDance to either sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S., according to the bill text. The bill was introduced by Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay), who has expressed cybersecurity concerns regarding China’s access to Americans’ cell phone data, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

It is important to recognize the strong impact young creators have on political outcomes, radio host and video columnist Kristin Brey said. Brey is the host of As Goes Wisconsin, a political media site that inspires civic engagement through comedy, according to the As Goes Wisconsin website.

“I absolutely think what TikTok was in the 2020 election meant something — certainly in the midterms it does as well,” Brey said.


Individuals aged 18 to 29 are most likely to regularly get their news from TikTok, according to Pew Research Center. Likewise, 48% of those aged 18-24 voted in the November 2022 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, ultimately reelecting Gov. Tony Evers, according to the U.S. Voting Census.

Political pressure may weaken TikTok’s communication power, but the app is so influential that no politician in Congress would risk reelection by banning it in the U.S., The New Republic journalist and Yale University political science lecturer Walter Shapiro said.

“One thing I can guarantee is that political pressures may make TikTok a clunkier form of communication than it is today, but Congress will not deliberately kill it,” Shapiro said.

The bill’s outcome will likely be a forced sale of TikTok to an American company, Shapiro said.

TikTok is an essential platform for promoting social movements primarily due to its prominent role in young people’s lives and its personal content, according to a research article co-authored by Columbia University professor of media Ioana Literat.

In a battleground state like Wisconsin, political commentary that drives emotional reactions is key in motivating people to vote, Shapiro said.

But, the brief form of TikTok videos — often less than 60 seconds — makes consuming multifaceted political information particularly risky, Chair of College Republicans at University of Wisconsin Thomas Pyle said.

“It’s not the best form for it [political commentary] with the length of the videos and the ability of content creators to steal their views and their message,” Pyle said. “I think it’s better to use other established news organizations to get your political beliefs.”

Nevertheless, young people often consume political news on TikTok in place of established news sites, meaning TikTok content has an impact on the outcome of Wisconsin elections, Pyle said.

Among Generation Z, social media platforms like TikTok can be important instigators of political participation, according to a study at Loyola Marymount University.

As TikTok has risen in popularity, there has been a significant increase in youth voter turnout with one UW polling location serving over 500 voters in the 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, compared to only 44 voters in 2019, according to NextGen America.

But content on TikTok is especially vulnerable to misinformation, UW professor of communication research Dhavan Shah said.

“I think it’s actually one of the worst ways to consume news,” Shah said. “Don’t rely on social media for news, but maybe rely on that as an alert system and then follow that up with a news source.”

Misinformation is hard to track down and delete, according to Shapiro. An automatic algorithm may flag a piece of misleading news, but eliminating the information is often done by hand, making it fundamentally impossible to completely regulate everything, Shapiro said.

Users should be checking where political information on social media is coming from, Shapiro said.

“We’re in an era where all voters are under assault from deliberate misinformation,” Shapiro said. “Check out the source. It’s the oldest journalism rule of all.”

While young people are engaging with TikTok in a way that could influence political elections, protecting U.S. national security should be the most important focus of this issue, Shapiro said.

There has been no evidence of the Chinese government having any malign intent in shaping Americans’ attitudes through TikTok, Shapiro said.

If there is a security risk, no one should use TikTok, Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said. Andraca said she started her TikTok account as a way of communicating complex Wisconsin politics in a more digestible form, but there are other platforms that could accomplish that goal.

Additionally, by the time of the 2024 presidential election in November, there will be a plethora of political messaging and ads on alternative media platforms, Andraca said.

“We will continue to use media and we will continue to post funny videos, whether that is on TikTok or something else,” Andraca said. “It’ll be up to users to decide where they migrate to next.”

It is unclear whether the Senate will pass the bill with or without additional changes, but President Joe Biden has said he would sign it, according to WPR.

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