Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has become the first 2024 candidate to join TikTok, despite accusing the app of being a potential spy mechanism for China. Ramaswamy argues that in order to reach young people and energize them, candidates need to engage with the platform. However, many of his competitors face a conundrum as they have called for measures to punish Beijing and some have even called for a ban on TikTok. Currently, about three in 10 US adults have a TikTok account, with usage particularly high among younger adults. Ramaswamy’s decision to join TikTok aligns with his campaign strategy of targeting younger voters, even though he has advocated for policies that would directly affect them, such as raising the voting age to 25.
While some in the Republican party have expressed concerns about TikTok’s data security and ties to China, Ramaswamy’s campaign argues that they must reach young people where they are. TikTok has been a subject of debate in Washington since its launch, with concerns about data security and potential Chinese influence. The app has faced bans on government devices and in some conservative-led states, but these orders have been largely halted by courts. President Biden revoked previous executive orders targeting TikTok, but his administration has also considered going after the app. Despite concerns, TikTok argues that banning the app would infringe on the First Amendment rights of its users and that a better approach would be a national privacy law. Some conservatives on TikTok argue that the platform allows voters and candidates to be heard and that staying off of it is not the best idea. They emphasize the need for conservatives to have their values and speech represented on the platform in order to provide a choice for young voters.
Overall, TikTok has become a topic of debate within the Republican party as candidates face the challenge of engaging with younger audiences while also addressing concerns about data security and Chinese influence. Ramaswamy’s decision to join TikTok illustrates his strategy of reaching young voters, even as he calls for the app to be banned. The wider Republican party has taken different approaches, with some producing short video clips that can be shared on TikTok and similar apps or working with conservative influencers on the platform. The debate highlights the tension between reaching young voters and addressing concerns over national security and privacy.