New Study on TikTok’s Algorithms and Trump’s Tulsa Rally

New Study on TikTok’s Algorithms and Trump’s Tulsa Rally

New Study on TikTok’s Algorithms and Trump’s Tulsa Rally. The event illustrates how TikTok’s algorithms can make mass political communication more accessible, but it is still no democratic utopia.

Over the summer, I crunched the numbers on about 80,000 TikTok videos pertaining to the prank on Trump’s re-election rally in Tulsa. My main interest was understanding how TikTok’s algorithms may have played a role in promoting the prank. This post summarizes findings from my workshop research paper, which was presented at the RecSys 2020 workshop on responsible recommendation.

Background

Why did the Trump administration want to ban TikTok? A few weeks ago, the app seemed to be days away from its death. And yet many of us were still asking: why, exactly, is Trump trying to ban it? Journalist Asia Ewart synthesized three of the main explanations:

  • Tensions between the U.S. and China
  • TikTok teens and K-pop stans tanking his Tulsa rally
  • TikTok’s political power

All three of these factors likely influenced the ban, and there may be more that we never learn about. But given that the Trump administration only started taking action in July 2020, the full timeline suggests that the Tulsa prank probably served as a catalyst of some kind:

  • 2017: Trump takes office
  • 2018: ByteDance integrates Musical.ly into TikTok (source)
  • 2019: TikTok surpasses 1 billion downloads globally (source)
  • June 14, 2020: Trump’s re-election campaign boasted about record-breaking attendance (800,000+) for the upcoming rally in Tulsa

research algorithms tiktok-app trump data-science

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