TikTok is an immensely popular social media platform for sharing short videos. Launched in September 2016, it was primarily used to share comedic or musical content. As the app became more popular more specific audiences quickly sprouted, building strong communities within the app.
Politics were not excluded from this phenomenon, and the app was quickly divided into liberal and conservative audiences. Within the liberal audience, even more division occurred when a radicalized leftist agenda started being pushed by far-left users. Since then, the popularization of radical leftism on the platform has been evident.
Creators are now seeking to raise awareness and class consciousness on the app. There is
a virtual revolution looming on the platform, and many creators find themselves advocating for the overthrow of capitalism. The content produced by said creators is found to be more entertaining than educational at times, as the aim of the content itself is accessibility, making theoretical knowledge understandable for all audiences reached by the videos.
Many independent movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, LGBTQ+ rights, and #MeToo movements have found a platform in the app within the leftist community. The leftists and liberals of TikTok were an intricate part of the Black Lives Matter movement surge last year. Political activism is one of the left's main objectives on TikTok, and users increasingly use the app for grassroots political activism.
Many young people are becoming aware of previously unseen inconsistencies in their beliefs. Closing the gap between what they previously considered their political ideologies to be and causing them to sympathize with the political agenda portrayed by leftists on the app. Users, especially Gen Z, truly believe their generation will be the one to bring about change.
TikTok provides these teens a platform for collectivism, agency, discourse, and action. It allows them to use technology to their advantage. Giving teens, who in many instances may not even be old enough to vote yet, the opportunity to make a difference.
On the other hand, one could argue the leftism found on TikTok is not as radical as it
seems, but mainly social-democratic ideas. For example, the ones pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders in his political campaign earlier last year. This phenomenon can be credited to Capitalism Realism, the idea that there is no way other than capitalism. This belief, combined with the bipartisan electoral system implemented in the United States, alleges that the Democratic Party of the United States is pulled to the right by the Republican party, leaving them at a center-right.
The illusion that the Democratic and Republican parties both represent center-left and center-right agendas. This has led many people to believe that center-left is, in reality, far-left, while true communist revolutionaries are completely out of the picture.
Videos on TikTok can also be considered performative activism: action taken to improve one's social capital instead of devotion to a cause. Performative activism can also be used to hide racist or apologetic behavior. After the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, social media was flooded with black squares and graphics of the cartoon character Hello Kitty holding up signs that read “ACAB.” This kind of behavior is incredibly detrimental, as it floods tags that were once big sources of information with performative content that fails to educate viewers in any sense.
The concept of aestheticization of politics can be traced back to Marxist writer Walter
Benjamin. Who wrote, “fascism permits the proletariat to express their suffering through art—film, photography, painting—and having professed their pain, the system tricks the masses into temporary gratification, which allows the fascist system to continue.”
Nowadays, the aestheticization of politics goes beyond the expression of the proletariat's suffering, beginning to aestheticize the suffering of others. As could be seen after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain in 2019. They became the subject of songs, murals, poems, and TED talks.
The framing of serious issues including police brutality, humanitarian crises or climate disasters in a cute or aesthetic way has been portrayed in the forms of memes, images, or infographics sanitizes and dilutes the violence these internet cornerstones seek to represent.
The combination of Generation Z's political awareness, the unity between minority groups, accessibility of information, performative activism, and the aestheticization of politics are mostly responsible for the popularization of leftism on TikTok. Leftist in TikTok presents a diverse, dynamic, and hopeful group consisting of millions of teens and young adults fully prepared to jump head-first into a class war. While society is considerably far from any type of revolution, leftist TikTok seems to be ready to take on class struggles and bigotry one 15-second skit at a time.
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