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Lincoln College expert and Lincolnshire PR firm delve into TikTok’s impact on General Election advertising

As the UK gears up for the general election, all parties are revving up their digital presence in an attempt to reach a younger generation.

Traditional and digital media are now intertwined with social media platforms, but they don’t play by the same rules.

Unlike journalistic media, which is bound by a strict set of regulations during the election period, social networks can be influenced by bad actors.

One of the Labour Party's latest Tik Tok videos | Photo: James Turner
One of the Labour Party's latest Tik Tok videos | Photo: James Turner

This was evident in past elections and continues to be a concern, as academics have warned.

Marietta van der Tol, a lecturer in politics at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, highlighted this difference.

“We do see an uptick of political advertising via social media.

“What is interesting is that such ads don’t always come from within the country where the elections are, and also, that they aren’t always identified as political,” she explained.

One of the latest Tik Tok videos from UK Labour | Photo: Tik Tok
One of the latest Tik Tok videos from UK Labour | Photo: Tik Tok

Marietta compared the situation to that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who reportedly flooded central Europe with millions of online ads during election season.

“Hungary used supposedly non-political ads in Belgium, Italy, and Germany during their election seasons.

“It’s not always easy to tell where the ads come from, and that’s good to remember in a time when your vote counts,” she added.

Dan Bratton, Digital Content Executive at Shooting Star | Photo: Submitted
Dan Bratton, Digital Content Executive at Shooting Star | Photo: Submitted

With Russia and China seen as hostile states, there’s ample opportunity for election interference through social media and search engine mediated advertising.

The virality effect that parties hope for appears to turn politics into a meme at the national level. A meme is a piece of media, often humorous, that spreads rapidly online. Labour and the Conservatives seem to have adopted two very different strategies for leveraging this.

The Conservative Party has taken to posting videos of party leader Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary David Cameron talking to the camera about their policies, while the Labour Party has opted for meme videos that take jabs at Conservative policies.

One viral example, which has racked up more than 641,300 likes on TikTok, pokes fun at Sunak’s plan to establish mandatory National Service for 18-year-olds. The video, captioned “Point of View: Rishi Sunak turning up on your 18th birthday to send you to war,” features a clip from 1989 of Cilla Black performing her song “Surprise Surprise”.

Dan Bratton, digital content executive at Lincolnshire PR firm Shooting Star, noted that Labour’s tactic demonstrates their effort to target the 18-24-year-old market, possibly in a similar way to how former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed to abolish tuition fees, but he isn’t convinced it will persuade voters.

“At the 2019 General Election, the turnout among voters aged 18 to 24 was only around 47%,” Dan explained.

“Given TikTok’s younger demographic, it isn’t surprising that both parties have chosen to focus on promoting themselves on the platform to appeal to the younger generation and get them interested in voting.”

“In days gone by you may have just scrolled past a political post, but now we’re laughing at them because of the drama between the two main parties on TikTok.

“Both parties’ accounts were set up less than a week ago: Labour is at 106k followers and the Conservatives are at 32.4k followers (at the time of writing).

“Labour potentially has made a better effort at using the platform than the Tories as they have hired a savvy social media team who know the platform and what type of content will perform well, while the Conservative presence on TikTok has been more of a traditional campaign-style video which isn’t best suited to the app.

“It is unlikely that the two parties will persuade voters either way through TikTok; however, it is getting young people talking about the general election, which can only be a good thing.”

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