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TikTok used to sway young voters ahead of global elections

This year, 4 billion people are eligible to cast their political vote around the world. Social media platforms – especially TikTok – are playing a huge role in the build-up to UK elections.

As Britain prepares for its highly-anticipated election, TikTok has emerged as a fresh battleground for the nation’s political parties.

Leaders from the Conservative and Labour parties are engaging in a back and forth of viral trends and memes, while attempting to squash misinformation about their policies – all with the hope of capturing the attention and support of young voters.

This tactic has been deployed by US politicians in recent times, but is relatively new in the UK. As a result, the UK’s upcoming campaign has been dubbed ‘the first TikTok election,’ reflecting the platform’s growing significance in political communication.

According to Ofcom, TikTok was the fastest growing news source in the UK for the second consecutive year in 2023, with 10 percent of adults and a huge portion of teenagers relying on it as their primary source of news.

Looking to reach these audiences, Labour and Conservative parties have each launched official TikTok accounts, using the platform to share everything from policy breakdowns to cringeworthy attempts at humorous skits.

Labour has been particularly active, posting a mix of meme battles and policy explanations. By contrast, the Conservatives have leaned towards traditional politician-talking-to-camera videos, which tend to attract significant but not always positive engagement.


@labourparty An 👏Ireland 👏 That 👏 Works 👏 For 👏 All #LabourIreland #SLabour ♬ original sound – LabourParty

While official content has made for entertaining watching, the surge in political content on TikTok has also led to a swell in misinformation.

Young voters are being exposed to videos that circulate unfounded rumours, as well as AI-generated clips that blur the line between satire and reality.

For instance, viral videos claimed that Rishi Sunak called an early election due to his involvement in a major scandal and that Sir Keir Starmer was responsible for the failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville, a serial paedophile.

AI-generated depictions of Sunak and other politicians have further muddied the waters. In one, a fake Sunak begs viewers, ‘Please don’t vote us out, we would be proper gutted!’ while another video sees Sunak outline his national service pledge to send 18-year-olds to current war zones in Ukraine and Gaza.


@cheeky.laughs #rishisunak #british #politics #funnyvideo #humour #conservative #plan ♬ original sound – Cheeky Laughs Comedy

Although some of these videos have been labelled as parody, user comments reveal widespread confusion about the authenticity of these claims.

In response to growing concerns about misinformation, TikTok says it has increased its investment in countering false content, particularly in the context of the UK general election.

The platform has added a fact-checking expert to its team and employs AI-labelling technology to identify and flag misleading videos.

Still, the challenge to combat misinformation remains difficult given the platform’s vast and rapidly changing content landscape.


@ukconservatives NEW: Labour’s plan explained #generalelection #ukpolitics #labour #uk ♬ original sound – Conservatives

Even with TikTok’s immense potential to sway voters, traditional digital campaigning remains crucial. Labour has already invested heavily in Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram ads, significantly outspending the Conservatives.

TikTok, which does not allow paid political advertising, demands a different style and approach. Parties must work harder to organically promote their content, relying on engagement from young users to boost visibility through TikTok’s tricky algorithm.

For smaller parties with limited budgets, this is beneficial, as TikTok offers a unique opportunity to gain visibility.


@labourparty Two besties off to make decisions we’ll regret 🙃 #Labour #LabourIreland ♬ original sound – LabourParty

Creators who understand the platform’s dynamics believe Labour has made a strong effort, taking cues from successful digital strategies abroad.

These include President Joe Biden’s influencer-driven campaign, which highlighted the importance of building a presence on platforms like TikTok.

They add that Conservatives could benefit from showcasing more relatable, lesser-known members to engage younger audiences. Good and downright bad content considered, the influence social media has in shaping political narratives is now undeniable.

As the election approaches, the role of TikTok in engaging and informing young voters will continue to evolve, shaping not only the outcomes but also the future of digital political campaigning in the UK.