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Biden's campaign gives in and joins TikTok. Blame the youngs

President Biden takes a selfie using a guest's phone during an event at the University of Tampa on Feb. 9, 2023.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
President Biden takes a selfie using a guest's phone during an event at the University of Tampa on Feb. 9, 2023.

Updated February 12, 2024 at 5:15 PM ET

President Biden's reelection campaign is going somewhere that his White House has feared to tread.

During the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, "BidenHQ" posted its first-ever TikTok, with the caption: "lol hey guys."

It's a sign of just how badly Democrats want to court young Americans ahead of the election. The social media platform is disproportionately popular with that demographic.

The White House has stayed away from TikTok because of privacy and national security concerns related to the app's owner, Chinese company ByteDance. The app is banned on government devices, and the powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been reviewing its ownership structure.

Until now, the campaign had followed that lead. But not anymore.

Why the campaign changed its mind about going on TikTok

The video features Biden answering questions about the Super Bowl and makes fun of the viral conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the NFL rigged the season so Taylor Swift could come out on the field and endorse Biden.

"I'd get in trouble if I told you," Biden said when asked if there was a plot to rig the game. His response follows a quick cut to the 'Dark Brandon' meme.

The timing of the launch was surprising to Democratic digital strategist Annie Wu Henry, who helped lead social media strategy for Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., in 2022 and has since done work for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY.

"We had been paying attention to the Super Bowl, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, everything else that was going on that night," Henry said.

But Biden joining the platform wasn't a shock, she said. "I assumed that this inevitably would happen at some time during this election cycle. Because I do think that people are understanding the abilities of being in these spaces," Henry said. "I had hoped that the Biden campaign would not have ignored what this could potentially be."

Nearly a third of Americans under 30 say they regularly get their news from TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center.

It's an age group that helped Biden win the 2020 election, but his approval ratings with the group have sagged, and he faces loud pushback from factions of the Democratic progressive base over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

There is also a potential enthusiasm problem. Among voters under 30, fewer say they "definitely" plan to vote in the presidential election compared to four years earlier, according to the latest Harvard Youth poll,published last winter.

The campaign explained to reporters that joining TikTok was important to get its message on every platform possible because of the fragmented and personalized way that voters consume the news and politics. It also posts on Truth Social, a platform owned by former President Donald Trump.

The campaign had initially said that beefing up its connections to influencers and content creators on TikTok was far more beneficial than having its own account on the platform.

Now, his campaign says it will do both things: continue to expand its influencer network while also having its own presence on TikTok. The campaign said it was taking "advanced safety precautions" to ensure security while using the platform. The White House declined to comment on the move.

"Dark Brandon" meme signs are seen ahead of a Republican debate in Miami on Nov. 8, 2023.
Jason Koerner / Getty Images for DNC
Getty Images for DNC
"Dark Brandon" meme signs are seen ahead of a Republican debate in Miami on Nov. 8, 2023.

Republicans are critical, saying it's a security risk

Some Republican lawmakers were critical of the move. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, calledTikTok "a spy app for the Chinese Communist Party... used to push propaganda on American kids and steal data."

Cotton said Biden's campaign was compensating for bad polls and bad headlines from a report last week from special counsel Robert Hur, that described Biden asan "elderly man with a poor memory."

However, some young organizers saw the move as a positive step in the Biden campaign's work to engage with their generation.

"A few years ago, young voters were all but ignored," said Jack Lobel, the National Press Secretary for the youth-run group Voters of Tomorrow. "Now, we have political power like never before, and the incumbent president's campaign is on TikTok."

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Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.