Already a member? Log In

The Trump-TikTok Flirtation

donald trump phone
The view from inside TikTok is that Trump is not only a top performer, but his hypothetical future presidency may also be their best shot at avoiding a forced sale or outright ban. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
May 9, 2024

What a difference four years can make. Several months before the 2020 election, Donald Trump floated the idea of banning TikTok, likely following the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was pushing the argument that the app being owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, constituted a national security risk. Soon after, Trump indeed attempted to ban TikTok by executive order, but the effort was thwarted by the D.C. District Court for being “arbitrary and capricious.” Some perceived it as a cynical ploy by Trump to disconnect Biden from the millions of young people who’d become hooked on the app during Covid and got a kick out of posting anti-Trump content. But Washington has been largely unified in its TikTok anxiety. Last month, of course, Biden signed a startlingly bipartisan bill into law that will ban the app if ByteDance hasn’t divested from its U.S. operations within nine months.

Meanwhile, perhaps surprisingly, the app has become a bastion of MAGA short-form video discourse. Since November, according to two TikTok officials, there’s been twice as much pro-Trump content as pro-Biden content on the platform—specifically, 1.29 million positive Trump videos or images, with 9.1 billion views, compared to 651,000 positive Biden posts, with 6.15 billion views, they told me. According to an internal TikTok analysis, from January 2023 into May 2024, videos tagged #Trump2024 have generated 472.8 million likes and 6.5 billion views, compared with 50.9 million likes and 558 million views for videos tagged #Biden2024. This may not be the most precise survey of the landscape, but that’s still a nearly 10 to 1 ratio of Trump likes to Biden likes, and 12 to 1 in views.