By State Representative Dora Drake
Politicians are quick to talk about the need to connect with Generation Z. They aren’t wrong; the decisions we make today influence the planet Gen Z inherits. They have the largest stake politically — climate change, widening wealth inequality, and the emergence of AI — we need them at the table. But we can’t do that if we can’t reach young adults. Lawmakers cannot connect with young voters if they also support legislation to ban or restrict TikTok.
TikTok encourages horizontal rather than vertical communication. Instead of a politician talking at their constituents, the platform fosters an environment to talk with them. Politicians such as Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff and North Carolina Representative Jeff Jackson have viral TikTok to speak directly with those they represent and Americans at large. In addition, it makes Congress feel more accessible to the average voter hundreds of miles away from Washington D.C.
TikTok also encourages greater political engagement. Research has found that TikTok users are significantly more likely to volunteer for a campaign and donate money to a candidate — this is not true of users of other social media platforms.
Books, the original way to become informed, are also going viral on TikTok. Milwaukee Public Library’s TikTok page has attained 108,000 followers and 4 million likes on the platform, instilling a love of reading in a younger generation often decried for being always online.
Although we should encourage offline reading, the government has no role in policing people’s preferred news forums. A growing share of U.S. adults say they regularly get their news on TikTok. This reality is good news. It means people are finding new mediums to keep up with current events. As a legislator, I will never deny someone the right to choose their preferred news platform — a ban of TikTok would also limit the freedom of information.
Democracy relies on an educated body-politic — learning is happening on TikTok. One in four Americans report using TikTok for education. In fact, 92 percent of respondents in the same study stated that using TikTok for educational purposes was helpful. As states like Florida continue to censor history in public schools, apps such as TikTok will only grow more critical. Khalil Green, known as the Gen-Z historian, has a series on TikTok covering “lesser-known moments in the nation’s past.” Mr. Green sees his work as “filling in the gaps of the U.S. education system.”
High school teacher Ernest Crim III has also turned to the platform to make educational content for TikTok. His videos are critical for educating audiences on lesser-known Black historical figures, important people in the abolitionist movement, and providing historical context to the news and current events. The work that Mr. Green and Mr. Crim III, as well as countless others on the app, do will only help create more knowledgeable voters.
The benefits of TikTok are extensive. It would be misguided to restrict a social media app that is critical for youth political engagement and education. Our republic depends on a civically informed and engaged electorate. Apathy is the scourge of democracy. Let’s not get rid of an app that catalyzes the former and risk generating the latter by pursuing policy to ban TikTok.