The Political Pundits of TikTok

As Twitter and Facebook continue to dominate conversations about social media and the 2020 presidential election, TikTok is quietly becoming a political force.

Teenagers in America — many of them too young to vote — are forming political coalitions on TikTok to campaign for their chosen candidates, post news updates and fact check opponents. They are sharing real-time commentary for an audience that is far more likely to watch YouTube videos than turn on a cable news channel.

In a sense, these TikTok users are building short-form TV networks, each with a cast of talking heads. On TikTok they’re called hype houses, named after the high-powered influencer collab house in Los Angeles. These political houses are not physical homes, but virtual, ideological ones represented by group accounts.

There are conservative-leaning houses (@conservativehypehouse, @theconservativehypehouse, @TikTokrepublicans and @therepublicanhypehouse, which amassed more than 217,000 followers in under a month) and liberal ones (@liberalhypehouse, @leftist.hype.house). There are also bipartisan houses, for users who love discourse, and undecided houses, for those who aren’t sure what or whom they love.

“I do feel like TikTok is cable news for young people,” said Sterling Cade Lewis, 19, who has nearly 100,000 followers. “CNN and Fox and big-name news media, those are all geared toward people who have honestly grown up with a longer attention span.”

TikToks, on the other hand, run a maximum of 60 seconds; most videos are as short as 15. “Being able to make shorter videos and educational clips, it’s easier to connect with a younger generation who’s just swiping through their phones 24/7,” Mr. Lewis said.

In recent months, content on TikTok has been getting more political. Before the general election in Britain in December, TikTok users there voiced their opinions on Brexit through popular formats, including lip syncs, skits and “checks” (self-assessments, essentially). In the United States, political videos have revolved around the Trump administration, the Democratic presidential primary and the general presidential election in November.

“It worries me a lot that some of these videos have one million views,” Kyndal, of @liberalhypehouse, said, referring to the misinformation on the platform. “Knowing that one million impressionable teens have seen this video and chosen to believe or not believe it.”

A TikTok spokeswoman wrote in an email: “We encourage our users to have respectful conversations about the subjects that matter to them. However, our Community Guidelines do not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public.”

For many members of political hype houses, tamping down on misinformation is a top concern. When various accounts began citing the claim that Mr. Sanders intended to tax Americans making more than $29,000 a year at a rate higher than 50 percent, Jordan Tirona, 19, responded with a video debunking it.

Though they disagree on major issues, members of different political groups frequently engage with each other. Their videos often go viral when they “duet” on major issues. (Duetting is a feature on TikTok that allows users to respond to videos with videos of their own and post them side by side.)

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