TikTok users likely sabotaged Trump's campaign rally

A supporter of US President Donald Trump sitting at the sparsely filled upper decks of the arena as the president addresses his first re-election campaign rally in several months in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, 2020.
A supporter of US President Donald Trump sitting at the sparsely filled upper decks of the arena as the president addresses his first re-election campaign rally in several months in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO • US President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hosted a fraction of the expected supporters. Some of the no-shows might have been teens who decided to RSVP with no intention of attending.

Over the past few days, people who oppose Mr Trump organised efforts on social media apps TikTok, Instagram and Twitter to sign up for the rally, sometimes with fake names or burner e-mail accounts.

The message spread among teens, especially fans of Korean pop music, who have pivoted their networks to political causes recently.

Memes on video-sharing app TikTok showed teenagers dancing in front of screenshots of their Trump rally registrations. Many of the posts were set to the tune of the 1993 song Macarena, prompting others to repeat the gesture and causing the meme to go viral.

It is impossible to know how many of the no-shows at the rally can be attributed to the viral effort.

Mr Trump boasted nearly one million sign-ups, far beyond the capacity of the 19,000-seat arena. He had planned to address overflow crowds at a stage outside the arena, but there was no need.

Only a few thousand people showed up - an outcome the campaign attributed to "radical protesters, fuelled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage", according to a tweet by Mr Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale.

Online, the opposition declared victory. "My 16-year-old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets," political strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked for president George W. Bush and senator John McCain, wrote on Twitter. "You have been rolled by America's teens."

Posts by other parents also made similar claims.

Mr Elijah Daniel, a music artist under the name Lil Phag, started asking his followers on TikTok days ago to reserve tickets and spread the word. On Saturday, he followed up on Twitter, asking how many had done so. Dozens responded saying they had reserved a few tickets, with joke excuses for why they could not go - from walking their plants to feeding their rocks.

"Seeing how this generation has stood up and become so creative in fighting for what they believe in is awesome," Mr Daniel said in an interview, crediting K-Pop fans for giving him the idea.

 
 
 

It was not just young people. Ms Mary Jo Laupp, who calls herself a "TikTok grandma", said the rally was "a slap in the face to the Black community". She told followers the campaign was offering two free tickets per cellphone number, and advised people to sign up and then just reply "STOP" to the text messages. Her post was liked 704,500 times and shared 135,000 times.

The Trump campaign relies on data from rally sign-ups to target effective advertisements leading up to election day.

On June 14, Mr Parscale tweeted that Tulsa represented the "biggest data haul and rally sign-up of all time by 10x." At least some of that data will likely be ineffective.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2020, with the headline 'TikTok users likely sabotaged Trump's campaign rally'. Print Edition | Subscribe