When Simon Harris became Ireland’s future prime minister in March, he turned to a favorite platform to express himself: TikTok.

In a video with “THANK YOU” written in yellow letters, the man who will be Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach told his 95,000 followers about his rise from a “stubborn, temperamental teenager” angry at the lack of educational help for his brother autistic.

Harris, sometimes dubbed the “TikTok Taoiseach,” is part of a vanguard of European politicians embracing the Chinese-owned social media platform, calculating that the need to reach younger voters outweighs security concerns.

With European elections approaching in June, mainstream politicians are wary of giving ground to fringe parties that have successfully exploited their short video format.

But TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny in the West due to fears that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could end up in the hands of the Chinese government.

Security agencies in Germany, for example, have warned against using the app due to concerns it could share data with China’s government or be used to influence users.

In the US, lawmakers want to force the sale of the platform by its Chinese owner or ban it from app stores. President Joe Biden has raised concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping.


TikTok says the security warnings are unwarranted and it doesn’t collect more information than other apps. In an attempt to assuage concerns, it launched a new website to store European user data in Dublin last year and hired a third-party security company to monitor data flows.

ByteDance has denied using its product for espionage, while the Chinese government has also denied any such intention.

Harris, 37, was an early adopter in March 2021, producing videos that ranged from a 60-second budget summary with musical background to footage of him making a cup of tea while watching football.

Another was French President Emmanuel Macron, who has 4 million followers since joining TikTok in 2020.

In Germany, the adoption of TikTok by senior politicians is a more recent trend, with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach becoming the country’s first minister to open an account in March.

“TikTok revolution: starts today,” he said.

“We cannot leave social media to the AfD,” he said, from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has become Germany’s second most popular.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz also suggested in February that his government open a TikTok account.

In contrast, Germany’s main ministers already have an established presence on other social networks. For example, Scholz, the finance minister, the economy minister and the foreign minister all have Instagram accounts, as does Lauterbach.

Reaching young voters is particularly urgent as 16-year-olds in Germany can vote in the European elections in June.


Among German parties, the AfD dominates TikTok. The party has 411 thousand followers and its main candidate, Maximilian Krah, 41 thousand.

“So all the other democratic parties are in a panic right now not to leave this important platform and the young demographic, the young voters, to this radical party,” said political consultant Johannes Hillje.

In a video, Krah encourages students to confront left-wing teachers. Another sees him giving dating advice to young people, telling them not to watch porn or vote Green. “Real men are right-wing, real men have ideals, real men are patriots.”

Top politicians who want to emulate this reach face a dilemma because they are also suspicious of using a platform from an authoritarian country.

Lauterbach said he may have reservations about TikTok, although he recognizes its effectiveness. “I don’t give the platform any legitimacy by using it,” he said. To avoid data leaks, he purchased a separate phone for use on TikTok.

Macron’s team also says the French president sees TikTok’s usefulness and the need for regulation as separate issues. “We cannot ignore this population, the vast majority of whom do not watch news on television or read the press,” a counselor who declined to be named told Reuters.

Showing the level of security concern, Britain and Austria banned TikTok from government employees’ work phones last year.

But TikTok is becoming harder to ignore. A report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism last year found that fewer people were trusting traditional media and more were turning to TikTok for news.

TikTok was the fastest growing social network in the report, used by 20% of 18-24 year olds to get news.

In the UK, the most senior minister with a significant presence on TikTok is Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.

When TikTok’s ban on government devices was announced, Shapps responded on the platform with a clip from the 2013 film “Wolf of Wall Street” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jordan Belfort declares, “I’m not fucking leaving.”

Shapps added that he had never used TikTok on government devices and that the ban was sensible.

Belgium has banned ministers and civil servants from installing TikTok on their official devices, but politicians get around this by using the application on separate devices.

Politicians from the co-ruling Green Party post TikTok videos with devices that are only connected to 4G and have no other apps installed, and the phones are not maintained by the politicians themselves, but by their staff.

“Another reason we are in this (TikTok) is that we don’t want to leave the field to the far left or the far right,” a Green Party spokesperson told Reuters.

“Young people receive news through social media and TikTok is one of the biggest platforms. Some politicians are comfortable with this, others are not.”

With information from Reuters.

Source: https://www.ocafezinho.com/2024/04/08/em-busca-do-voto-jovem-politicos-europeus-se-rendem-ao-tik-tok/

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