Culture

Research finds TikTok actually favors Republicans, not Democrats

Researchers analyzed 8,000 TikToks posted between October 2019 and February 2020 and found a distinct favoring for Republican-flavored fare.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Donald Trump's obsession with TikTok is crystal clear. The president is known for his diatribes against the Chinese-owned social video app in which he's repeatedly suggested it's a state-level plot by the Chinese government to mine data on U.S. citizens and that it's a national security threat. But what Trump doesn't realize is the app that he keeps slamming is also a platform where Republicans outproduce and outweigh Democrats with pro-GOP content.

Research conducted by the Technical University of Munich analyzed almost 8,000 TikTok videos to better grasp their political leanings and angles. "In our sample," the authors of the paper concluded, "we find a larger collection of Republican videos, which, on average, attracted more interactions than Democratic videos."

A reality check — One of the pervasive narratives the GOP tries to push about social media platforms is that there is an anti-conservative bias not only on the platforms, but in how they treat content, and in their workplaces. It doesn't matter that this claim keeps getting refuted, including by Google, Facebook, and Twitter's own reports about which content performs most successfully on their platforms.

The same argument about left-leaning content being both dominant and favored is leveled against the President's new favorite Chinese punching bag, TikTok. This research paper, however, pokes a massive hole in that assumption and shows that not only do conservative voices exist on apps like TikTok, but they actually thrive and can receive more engagement than liberal-focused material. In pure numbers, the paper notes that there were nearly 2,000 pro-GOP TikTok users as opposed to the 1,250 pro-Democrat users from its sample.

Granted, its sample size would benefit from being substantially larger, but it makes it hard to argue that TikTok is a lefty mouthpiece.

Serious politics on a goofy app — When it took off, TikTok amassed a reputation for addictive and silly viral dances, jokes, and challenges. But in November 2019, reports emerged that the short video app was turning toward more political content, including pro-Trump supporters popping up to criticize Democratic presidential candidates.

Of course, none of this gets highlighted by Republican senators or Trump himself. Reuters reported that, when speaking about TikTok, Trump's treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin told the press that the app could not "stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans." What Mnuchin conveniently left out was that companies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and others already collect your data and personal information. It's just that, for the Republican party, TikTok's Chinese origin poses a supposedly "unique" threat.

The possibility of this paper reaching the Oval Office is pretty low. And even if it did, it would likely be dismissed out of hand, because Trump's relationship with facts is antagonistic, to say the least. But maybe Trump would soften his position on TikTok if he found out he's got a fanbase on it making videos that favor him. Because the only thing the President likes more than crying "bias" is having his ego stroked.