Advertisement

What will the youth vote look like if a TikTok ban goes into effect before November?

Experts think a TikTok ban will impact where young voters get their news from. Could it impact whether they show up to the polls?

acob Rankin, 25, holds up his
Jacob Rankin, 25, holds up his "I Voted Early" sticker after casting his ballot in downtown Milwaukee on Nov. 5, 2022. (Sara Stathas/ Washington Post via Getty Images)

The House passed a bill on March 13 that would require the Chinese company ByteDance to divest from TikTok within six months or risk the app being banned in the U.S. While the legislation still has to go through the Senate — when that is happening is still unclear — some politicians, creators and users tried to fathom the aftermath of one of the most popular social media platforms being banned.

It is especially notable, given it's an election year and, according to the Pew Research Center, social media plays a critical role in how Americans find and consume news. The number of U.S. adults who claim to regularly get their news from TikTok specifically has almost doubled since 2020. The demographic most likely to use TikTok for news are young adults between 18 and 29.

“Between the last presidential election cycle and this one, we’ve seen over 16 million young people come of age, and those young people are digital natives,” DeNora Getachew, the CEO of DoSomething.org, told Yahoo News. “We believe [a TikTok ban] will have an impact on where people are getting their news from.”

DoSomething.org is one of the largest nonprofits for young people making social change. Getachew, an expert on Gen Z and millennial voters, said she didn’t think the ban would hurt voter turnout but it might come back to bite figures in office.

“Young people have told [politicians] unapologetically and unequivocally that they are frustrated about the lack of action with policies at the federal level that are addressing their most grave concerns: reproductive health access, gun violence prevention, student loan debt,” she explained. “Juxtapose that with how quickly they’re working in Congress to address [TikTok].”

A TikTok spokesperson noted something similar in a statement to Yahoo News and described the bill as being “jammed through” to reach the Senate.

Alex Bruesewitz, a conservative media consultant, told Yahoo News that the TikTok ban proposal was “a boneheaded move,” especially during an election year and especially when young people are “pessimistic” about the government as is.

“They have little faith in the government, they have little faith in the media, they have little faith in institutions,” he said, referring to young voters. “These kids want hope.”

Trends counter the idea that young people don’t care about voting

House Democrats issued warnings that the legislation could further intensify the party’s issues with millennials and Gen Z, according to Axios. Young voters were especially key for President Joe Biden during the 2020 election. In recent months, the White House brought TikTok influencers into briefings, and Biden even joined the platform in February — a month before he told reporters he’d sign the TikTok ban legislation if it landed on his desk.

“Biden’s got a real problem here,” Bruesewitz said. “I think banning TikTok would give a lot of young voters a great reason to show up to the polls if they weren’t already.”

Getachew told Yahoo News that 80% of DoSomething members have said they don’t trust that government officials are actually listening to the voices of young people and enacting policy accordingly.

Both Bruesewitz and Getachew think voting for principles and change rather than for individuals is the priority for young voters. By that logic, if young voters think a policy like a TikTok ban is imminent — which, for some, could potentially threaten their income — they will show up to the polls rather than stay at home.

“They realize the ballot box is the vehicle through which they will have an impact on shaping the society we live in,” Getachew said.

How likely is it that a TikTok ban will happen before November? What will happen?

Sara Fischer, a media reporter for Axios, explained to CNN that the likelihood of TikTok being removed from app stores before the November election is slim.

“TikTok will likely file an appeal, they can ask for a temporary injunction to stop the law from going into effect while it gets sorted out in the courts,” she said. “People are wondering about the political implications ahead of the election, I don’t really even think [a TikTok ban is] a possibility at this point.”

If the ban does go into effect before the November elections, the theory is everyone will just be driven to another social media platform.

“It’s kind of hard to predict,” Getachew said. “We know that if one platform were no longer viable, many of the campaigns and third parties interested in advertising around the election might just shift their focus and their resources to other platforms.”

Former President Donald Trump even expressed his concern about this during a recent appearance, alleging that a TikTok ban would give only more power to Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company.

“[TikTok] has been a great news source for a lot of younger people,” Bruesewitz said. “I’m glad President Trump has kind of said, ‘Hey, look, Facebook’s actually the real problem here.’”

Pew’s research found that a majority of people already get their news from Facebook and Instagram compared to TikTok. But ultimately, there's no evidence of a concern that a TikTok ban will negatively affect young-voter turnout in September.

“There are more young people eligible to vote [and] more young people who are registering to vote,” Getachew said. “We saw record-level youth turnout in a midterm election in 2022. If we follow these trends, what we’re going to see is that young people this year (combining Gen Z and millennials) will be poised to make up 49% of eligible voters.”