Eight people were flown to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Joe Biden. Their stated purpose was neither to bolster border security nor to address inflation but rather to utilize the Chinese-controlled social media app TikTok to help Democrats hold on to and secure more power.
Crystallizing public opinion
The Washington Post reported that a handful of so-called influencers, including Nia Sioux, Mona Swain, Vitus Spehar, Kat Wellington, and Mattie Westbrouck, were flown for free to D.C., where they met with Biden, former president Barack Obama, and leaders of both the Democratic National Committee and House Democrats' campaign committee.
Streaming their experiences, the influencers toured the Supreme Court and received a private tour of the Capitol.
The penultimate stop on their whirlwind visit was a news conference where the 79-year-old president claimed the COVID-19 mRNA booster "is going to be required" before sitting down to receive one himself.
Finally, in a detour planned directly by the White House, the influencers received an hour more of Biden's time than Americans along the southern border have received in person since he took office.
In the Oval Office, Biden reportedly explained why he got into politics and why the healthy young streamers should get COVID-19 mRNA boosters. He then walked them around the West Wing.
22-year-old Westbrouck, who has over 10.2 million followers on TikTok, said, "It felt like a little room tour but by the president."
Though Spehar, the host of the TikTok news channel "Under the Desk News," said Biden "didn't mention the election or voting," the influencers had already received their marching orders by the time they had reached the Oval Office.
High-level Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffers instructed the influencers on how they could best serve the interests of the party in the midterm election. The Post indicated that DCCC staffers highlighted key districts in battleground states where the influencers' help was required and could be used to great effect.
Obama, like Biden and other Democrats, impressed upon these prospective agents of the state how important it was that the Democrats win in the midterms.
"I genuinely think it's a scary time for people who can get pregnant and won't be able to have rights to an abortion," said 21-year-old Nia Sioux, who has 8.3 million followers. "I will be talking about my stance on that, and I will have more information in [my] social media content."
Kat Wellington, 24, similarly found the Democrat immersion trip activating. She said, "This trip helped me make the push to use my platform for that. I don't want to be afraid to share my genuine beliefs about politics, even if it's going to upset some people."
Rob Flaherty, the White House director of digital strategy, told the Post, "We know people listen to trusted messengers, and as an increasing number of young people turn to Instagram, TikTok and other platforms for news and information, we need to engage with the voices they trust directly."
Shelby Cole, deputy mobilization officer at the DNC, underscored the need for Democrats to exploit the reach of content creators to engage "young voters to remind them of the stakes in this election and how to make a plan to vote."
Vaccines and votes
In recent years, the Biden administration has invested a great deal of time and energy into leveraging TikTok to achieve its political ends.
Earlier this month, Judicial Watch obtained evidence of an extensive media campaign executed by the Biden administration aimed at driving up acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines. While records revealed the administration had colluded with establishment media, major corporations, and various institutions to advance its vaccine narrative, its messaging strategy also relied heavily upon social media influencers.
For instance, the Biden administration noted its intention to request "major TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram influencers to create videos of themselves being vaccinated and start a special campaign of funny and/or musical videos about being vaccinated to encourage others to create content and post."
The documents acquired through Judicial Watch's freedom of information lawsuit also revealed the administration's belief that in order to capture the minds of young people, it would have to "target endemic content creators, with a particular focus on Youtube, and TikTok."
17-year-old Ellie Zeiler was one of those paid by the Biden administration to push vaccines as part of the so-called "influencer army." Although just a high school student, Zeiler was useful to the administration because she had over 10 million followers.
Owing to influencers' perceived utility, they are often given preferential treatment.
TheBlaze noted last week that it's difficult to schedule an interview with Biden. He has only agreed to 28 interviews since taking office. Transsexual fetishist Dylan Mulvaney managed, however, to secure an exclusive interview with the president, which aired on Sunday. Mulvaney is a TikTok user with 8.3 million followers.
Mulvaney was assigned priority, like the influencers invited to the White House this week, in part because the interview was able to deliver more eyeballs than the traditional media networks that Democrats have long depended upon, such as CNN, which frequently has trouble seizing even the interest of 600,000 viewers.
The Biden administration has used influencers to supplement its establishment media support since the beginning. The Washington Post reported that in 2020, TikTok for Biden assembled a collective of over 500 Tiktok users to endorse Biden.
In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, top White House and National Security Council staffers met with influencers. Forbes reported that in March, persons whose only qualifications were comfort using a phone and access to a big audience were briefed on the war and prompted to disseminate the White House's narrative to their followers.
While Democrats are relying more and more on TikTok influencers for strategic and governmental functions, they do so despite warnings that the platform is compromised in more than one way.
TikTok has censored conservative speech and artwork, such as rapper Bryson Gray's "Let's Go, Brandon" song, as well as content flagged as unacceptable by foreign dictators. Earlier this year, the platform banned the founder of the pro-life group Live Action and barred the group from posting ads.
Fox News Digital reported that a whistleblower indicated the Chinese government, which controls TikTok, has been using the app to "suppress minorities, censor freedom of speech and mask human rights violations."
In addition to being used to selectively silence certain groups and amplify the voices of others — such as those anointed on trips to the White House — TikTok is a security threat.
A report released last week accused TikTok's parent company ByteDance of planning to use the location data it collected on the app to track and monitor American citizens. The company is also being accused of seeking to gather users' personal and private information without their consent.
This week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, "Donald Trump was right on TikTok years ago ... If your country uses Huawei, if your kids are on TikTok ... the ability for China to have undue influence is a much greater challenge and a much more immediate threat than any kind of actual armed conflict."