The news media have spent four years screaming about allegations that Russians hacked the 2016 election. Fast forward to 2020 and people are now using the Chinese app TikTok to sabotage President Donald Trump’s election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Multiple outlets have revealed that internet users have gleefully trolled the Trump campaign. “[T]he idea to troll President Donald Trump with false ticket reservations to Saturday's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma came from TikTok,” NBC News reported.
TikTok is an app similar to YouTube, where users make viral video memes and music video clips. It is notably owned by ByteDance, a Chinese firm directly overseen by the Chinese government. TikTok has been scrutinized for its data vulnerabilities to the point that the U.S. military has outright banned its members from using it. Even Silicon Valley elites have spurned it as foreign spyware.
“Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID Shout out to Zoomers. Y’all make me so proud.”
National Pulse Editor-in-Chief Raheem Kassam responded by asking Ocasio-Cortez if she could possibly be serious with this high praise for potential election interference with the use of a Chinese app:
“Tik Tok is a Chinese Communist Party controlled platform and you’re bragging about an effort to undermine a US election on there?”
NBC News wrote one example of a TikTok post that went viral and reportedly helped get this troll campaign started. “Mary Jo Laupp” reportedly explained in a TikTok video that users could “humiliate the president” by reserving tickets with zero intention of using them in order to stop more supporters from attending. NBC News observed that this video had been viewed “more than 2 million times as of Sunday, according to TikTok's metrics.”
CNN observed that Laupp “said she worked on Pete Buttigieg's campaign in Iowa last fall.”
Part of what makes troll campaigns so effective is that they can go viral and cross-pollinate between platforms.
Twitter user Diana Mejia was one such example given by NBC News who saw Laupp’s TikTok video and exported her troll campaign idea to Twitter:
“Twenty minutes after seeing the video, Mejia tweeted that she had reserved her own set of tickets: “oh no! I just reserved my tickets for 45’s rally on JUNETEENTH in TULSA and completely forgot that I have to mop my windows that day! now my seats will be EMPTY!”
“Not long after she posted the tongue-in-cheek tweet, it went viral with more than 50,000 likes and other young people saying they planned to do the same.”
A large part of the movement appears to have been “K-pop stans,” meaning the online subculture of enthusiasts for Korean pop music.
NBC noted that these online groups “have recently made headlines for their style of online protest, in which they’ve tried to aid the Black Lives Matter movement and the public demonstrations by co-opting racist hashtags and flooding them with images, gifs and videos of their favorite K-pop stars.” These K-pop stans reportedly trolled the Dallas Police Department’s request to send footage of “illegal activity from the protests,” NBC observed. Ocasio-Cortez also gave due credit to this specific subculture: “KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice too.”