After the Trump Verdict, the TikTok Trial Began

Former President Donald Trump walks to make comments to members of the media after a jury convicted him of felony crimes for falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election, at Manhattan Criminal Court, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

After the conviction of Donald Trump on all 34 felony counts in a hush-money trial in a New York court, TikTok users turned to the platform’s livestreaming feature to discuss the verdict.

For hours, late into the night Thursday and into Friday morning, thousands of people around the world watched these streams and heard from armchair experts, political commentators, lawyers and even Michael Cohen.

Cohen, the key witness in the criminal case against his former boss, Trump, had already been using the platform throughout the trial to talk to the masses. (Earlier this month, Justice Juan M. Merchan told prosecutors to inform Cohen that he was “to refrain from making any more statements about this case.”)

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On Thursday night, Cohen took a victory lap on a TikTok livestream in which many social media users praised him for his testimony and sent blue hearts. He also invited other users to join his stream and talk with him directly.

“To put it lightly I’m a fan — that’s kind of weird,” one user told Cohen. “I think you did a very solid service to America.”

Not everyone was so positive. Another user brought onto the livestream was frustrated with the outcome of the trial and asked Cohen why he thought the jury had sided with the prosecution.

“The defense strategy was so flawed because — and as a guy who was with Donald for over a decade and has seen it happen again and again and again — he should not be dictating the defense,” Cohen answered. “It’s very hard as a lawyer to deal with a case like this. Now you’re dealing with a case like this where your defense is predicated on the wishes and wants of your client.”

During TikTok livestreams, viewers can send digital gifts in the form of cartoon items like roses, lightning bolts and dinosaurs, which can be exchanged for a monetary payment from the platform. Sometimes, the gifts transposed a cartoon over Cohen’s face as he spoke, like an elephant’s trunk or furry kitten ears.

Elsewhere on TikTok, smaller groups of users debated the outcome of the trial. Christian Reeves, a personal injury lawyer from Jacksonville, Florida, with a modest TikTok following of 17,000 users, spent much of the evening reading news articles about the trial to her viewers on a livestream.

Pew Research Center has found that about one-third of 18- to 29-year-olds say they get their news from TikTok these days. Creators like Reeves, who serve as de facto news aggregators, have become increasingly popular.

Reeves, 35, said in an interview Friday that she used the live feature multiple days a week to discuss political and current events that pertain to her work as a lawyer. She had been following along and gathering news about the hush-money trial for weeks.

Reeves said she had wanted to help people better understand what had happened during the trial, noting that many users appeared to be murky on the facts.

“Some people didn’t really understand because they were asking, well, you know, ‘Paying hush money is not a crime,’” she said. “And I said, ‘That’s correct. However!’”

Reeves added that she had tried to remain nonpartisan in her livestreams.

“I usually try to pick about four or so sources, and I like to read from all sides,” she said. “I’ll read from CNN; I’ll read from Fox News; I’ll read from Associated Press; I’ll read from The New York Times.”

During the livestream Thursday, an article from NBC floated on the screen behind Reeves’ head as she read and offered commentary.

Link Lauren, a political influencer who previously worked as a senior adviser on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign, also spent Thursday night livestreaming on TikTok. Like Reeves, Lauren, who is 25 and has nearly 500,000 TikTok followers, found that many of the people watching his livestreams were not informed about the trial.

“A majority of Americans, they’re busy with work. They’re busy with their kids’ school,” Lauren said in an interview Friday morning, echoing opinions he had shared the night before on TikTok. “They might be going to a soccer game; they might be working multiple jobs. They might be taking care of a sick relative. A majority of Americans don’t have the time to focus on these trials.”

During his livestreams, Lauren encourages viewers across the political spectrum to participate.

“I don’t want to live in an echo chamber,” he said. “So I’m like, hey, agree, disagree with me. I hold space for everyone on my page.”

Still, he said he had noticed a pattern among his audience Thursday night.

“I was getting a lot of DMs from people who said, ‘I’m a disaffected Democrat’ or ‘I’m an independent, but this is making me give to Donald Trump for the first time,’” he said.

Many of those people, he said, told him they were thinking of voting for Trump.

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