On Friday evening, President Trump announced to journalists that he would be banning TikTok, effective almost immediately. Like most of Trump’s pronouncements, this one failed to come to fruition: as of this writing, the wildly popular app is still up and running, and Microsoft is currently still in negotiations to purchase it within a 45-day window, as dictated by Trump, who has announced he will allow such a bid to go through. Yet the announcement spooked many popular creators, who immediately started publicly protesting the ban. Even some right-wing influencers, who typically will engage in any number of logistical gymnastics to defend Trump’s actions, found themselves speaking out against the prospective action. “I absolutely do not agree with this decision whatsoever,” Cameron Higby, a member of Conservative Hype House, a collab house (a collective of prominent creators) with 1.4 million followers, said in a TikTok, though he did not decry Trump specifically.
Many right-wing creators posted panic-stricken TikToks urging their followers to find them on other platforms. When reached by Rolling Stone, however, they purported to be significantly less perturbed. Despite suggestions that many Gen Z-ers may become further politicized as a result of a potential ban, right-wing creators insist that Trump’s potential ban has done little to affect their own views of the president.
Ace Echols, 19, a member of Republican Hype House who has 115,000 followers, justified a prospective ban as being in the “safety and national interest,” even though many pundits have asserted that it may be motivated more by Trump attempting to capitalize on anti-Chinese sentiment. He is generally dismissive of suggestions from left-wing activists that Trump may intend such a ban as retaliatory against actions such as a widespread campaign to buy up tickets for his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or to facilitate organizing for Black Lives Matter protests.
“I don’t think this has changed [right-wing creators’] views of Trump at all,” says Echols, adding that he still plans to vote for him come November.
In general, Gen Z political content has flourished on TikTok. Though much of this has been on the left, due to Gen Z being left-leaning, right-wing creators have also carved out niche followings, banding together to join collab houses like Conservative Hype House and Republican Hype House to help promote each other’s content. Branding yourself as a conservative can also be a savvy self-promotional strategy, as it helps aspiring influencers differentiate themselves from their left-leaning cohorts.
As Rolling Stone has previously reported, TikTok has received criticism for allegedly allowing many far-right conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and anti-vaccine content to flourish. But right-wing creators I spoke with disputed that TikTok has been unusually conducive to right-wing content, saying that they were upset that the platform has removed much of their content. Vicente Byrne, a creator with 58,000 followers who posts content mocking BLM activists and decrying “antifa violence,” says approximately 10% of his content (including a recent video about Ghislaine Maxwell) is removed on TikTok. He plans to migrate to Instagram Reels, Instagram’s upcoming TikTok-esque short-form video competitor, in the event of a ban. “I don’t consider Facebook a conservative-friendly company but I’m not as worried. I’ve never had my content removed from Instagram or Facebook and I get taken down from TikTok all the time, so in my eyes they’re better than TikTok would be,” he says.
Although many brands have backed out of working with mainstream creators because of the prospective TikTok ban, that’s not as much the case for right-wing creators, as brands are wary of working with politically oriented creators to begin with. Though some work with pro-Trump student organizations or merchandise and clothing brands, they are less reliant on TikTok than more mainstream creators may be for this reason. “I’m not really panicked myself because we have other plans in motion,” says Echols. “God will work it out for the better.”
Some of those plans include migrating to other platforms such as Triller, a TikTok-like short-form video app that recently announced it had hired Sway House member and TikTok creator Josh Richards, an influencer with more than 20 million followers, as chief digital strategy officer. Others are holding out for the early-August launch of Instagram Reels. Parler, a platform favored by those on the right that has branded itself as an anti-censorship platform, has also become another favored organizing hub.
Of course, it’s highly possible that, if the Microsoft deal goes through, all of this doomsday prepping on behalf of influencers of all stripes will be for naught. But on the right, few appear to find it problematic that their candidate of choice has taken a stand against the platform on which their pro-Trump views have found a following. After all, as Byrne scoffs, “no one’s gonna vote for Joe Biden over not being able to use a social media app.”
From Rolling Stone US