Hypocrisy? Biden cheers ban on TikTok while he uses 'influencers' to boost his sagging campaign

social media influencer by is licensed under Canva

Last week, Joe Biden signed a bill that not only increases funding for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region but also includes a ban on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)- owned TikTok, which is ostensibly owned by the private company ByteDance. If ByteDance fails to divest itself of TikTok by January 19, 2025, this move could significantly impact US-China relations and the digital landscape. 

Ironically, Biden, who has publicly criticized TikTok, is not only using the app but also leveraging its "influencers" to appeal to Gen Z voters. This contradictory behavior, as reported by The Intercept, raises questions about the administration’s stance on the platform

While on his way to the State of the Union speech in March, Biden walked by a group of them standing on the balcony of the White House and, as he’s done before, yelled out, “Don’t jump, I need you!” 

The Intercept reports the White House has hosted some of the most significant TikTok users with accounts that have millions of followers, according to visitor logs. Since September, those users include:

  • Jason Linton, a father who posts content about his family and whose account has 13.8 million followers
  • Michael Junchaya (who uses the name “Mikey Angelo) who has 3.5 million followers and specializes in “rap recap” videos
  • Mona Swain, a theater enthusiast with 1.9 million followers
  • Alexandra Doten, a space communicator who previously worked for NASA with 2.3 million followers and;
  • Oneya Johnson, who posts “angry reaction” videos and has an unbelievable (or had) 27 million followers, visited the White House on September 27, 2023, however, he has since deleted his account after getting arrested for domestic violence. 

At the helm of these TikTok influencer meetings is Morgan MacNaughton, the White House's deputy director of partnerships. With her background in TikTok and her previous role at Palette, a social media talent management' company, MacNaughton has been instrumental in forming the political group 'TikTok for Biden,' now rebranded as 'Gen-Z for Change.' 

The Democratic National Committee paid Palette $200,000 in 2022 for paid media, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data. According to the Washington Post’s resident crybaby Taylor Lorenz, Palette was paid a retainer from the DNC to cover the expenses of eight TikTok creators to travel to Washington, DC, hoping to use them in the 2022 midterms. They ended up meeting up with Biden in the Oval Office. 

According to Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Biden, she told The Intercept that MacNaughton “helped to get POTUS’s message out to more audience.” Hopefully, in a much more coherent manner than Biden himself can. 

“The reason Morgan’s position exists is because we knew the work she was capable of: discovering, ideating, and leading creator talent,” Christian Tom, director of the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, told The Intercept. “In just under a year at the White House, she has driven on many digital creator projects that have been vital to our digital strategy.” 

The White House's commitment to using TikTok influencers appears to contradict the public rhetoric emanating from there. The administration has raised concerns about TikTok, including in a phone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier in April. The administration also expressed concerns about Chinese ownership of ByteDance. 

As expected, public opinion on banning the app is divided, with older Americans who don’t tend to use it favoring an outright ban. In contrast, younger people favor keeping the app, which critics say contains algorithms that push political agendas favorable to the Chinese. However, Biden has alienated some of his supporters with his support for the legislation. 

“There are clearly some First Amendment concerns here and to do this in an election year seems wrong to me,” Harry Sisson told the Intercept. Sisson is a self-described “pro-Biden content creator” and uses his account with 800,000 followers to advocate for Biden while slamming his opponents (aka Trump). Sisson was also listed on the White House visitor log. 

“There are over 170 million Americans on TikTok, many of which get their news from the app [hence the problem], and to take that away and give Trump a talking point only hurts the Democratic Party,” Sisson said. 

Even though White House visitor logs were only available through last September, TikTok influencers continue to visit the White House, as evidenced by the group on the White House balcony in March. 

Despite publicly calling for the app to be banned, the Biden administration has embraced TikTok, creating an official Biden campaign account in February. That decision has confused even some of Biden’s most ardent supporters. 

“I’m a little worried about a mixed message,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of that decision. 

For its part, the White House dismissed any concerns of hypocrisy, noting that the federal ban on the use of TikTok on government devices is still in place and applies to White House officials. It also referred questions to the Biden campaign. 

The Biden campaign said it will “continue meeting voters where they are.” 

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on what side of the aisle you’re on), TikTok would not be banned until after the November election. So there’s plenty of time for those algorithms to do what they are designed to do…favor Biden and slam Trump. 

Some influencers, however, say the ban on TikTok will influence their vote. According to USA Today, one such person is  43-year-old Abby Rivera, who endorses makeup. Her videos “are all about navigating life as a widow, a single mom, and beauty with a rare skin condition.” She credits TikTok with helping put food on her table. She said that while she hasn’t voted in 12 years, that may change this November. 

“If they voted for it, then they have a vote against them when the election comes,” she said. 

While former President Trump initially said he favored a TikTok ban, he has since walked back support for such a ban. 

Another influencer, Keith Edwards, spoke glowingly of Biden’s State of the Union address. However, he is now concerned about a president having the power to remove apps from the public square. 

“My friends at the Pentagon have been like: ‘There’s a loaded gun on the table. Let’s take away the gun,’” he told USA Today. “OK, I guess, but giving a president fast power just because something could happen? I don’t know how to feel.” 

One politician who used TikTok to his advantage is North Carolina Rep. Jeff Jackson (D). However, when the time came to ban the app, Jackson voted in favor, leading some of his 2.3 million followers to slam him for hypocrisy. He then apologized for voting to ban the app. 

That didn’t do much to appease critics, one of whom was an influencer named Noah Glenn Carter. Carter covers video games and entertainment news and has 8.7 million followers on TikTok. 

“Jackson could use the app when it benefited him. But now he tells everyone that they can’t use it when it benefits them. I have more respect for the politicians that voted yes for the ban that don’t use TikTok than I do for the ones that voted yes and do use it,” Carter said. 

Some far-left TikTok users worry that such backlash could hurt their favored candidates, including Biden. One is Josh Helfgott, an alphabet community activist. 

“The impact of that backlash toward Jeff Jackson is what I fear happening to every Democrat who votes yes for this, especially President Biden,” he said. 

Another content creator, Johnny Palmadessa, 24, told USA Today he believes the impending ban will increase young peoples’ interest in politics, but it is uncertain how it may affect their votes. 

“I don’t see this helping Democrats,” he said. “Then I look at the Republicans and the first thing that comes to mind is well, ‘President Biden might need to sign a bill that hurts his chances among young voters.” 

Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been a staunch supporter of the app and may prove a spoiler in the November election. 

“He is filling a vacuum with promises that he can–or can’t–keep on TikTok,” said Vitus Spehar, who reports on daily events and politics. It’s not that the kids aren’t going to vote for Biden. It’s that the kids are doing to vote for RFK Jr. because he has made himself feel like one of them.” 

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