While the EU wants to crack down, candidates for the European elections face the TikTok problem

While the EU wants to crack down, candidates for the European elections face the TikTok problem
While the EU wants to crack down, candidates for the European elections face the TikTok problem

Candidates in June’s European elections are turning to TikTok in a bid to influence young voters, despite security concerns and accusations of interference and misinformation hanging over the app.

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TikTok is a crucial campaign territory for those hoping to secure the youth vote in June’s European elections.

The Chinese-owned platform has some 142 million users in the EU, mainly young people.

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However, some candidates deliberately reject the network, fearing that the Chinese government will spy on sensitive data and that disinformation will distort the vote.

Ursula von der Leyen, the main candidate for the center-right European People’s Party, will give up TikTok in the run-up to the vote, her campaign team confirmed last Friday, in a bid to defend her executive’s increasingly hawkish stance on the platform.

On Monday evening, von der Leyen, who is currently juggling two roles campaigning for votes while remaining head of the European Commission, also refused to rule out a possible blanket ban on TikTok in the EU if she remained at the head of the executive.

Questioned during a debate with the main candidates in Maastricht Asked if she could follow the example of the United States, where President Biden signed a bill that could ban TikTok, von der Leyen replied: “It is not excluded.”

“We know full well the danger of TikTok,” she added.

Of the ten main official candidates in the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process, only two, Terry Reintke of the Greens and Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmerman of the Liberals, are actively campaigning on TikTok.

But avoiding the video-sharing platform could come with an electoral cost, as fringe parties, particularly on the far right, attract followers and potential voters through personal and politically charged content.

When strategy collides with politics

At the end of February, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola posted his first TikTokand this exactly one year after the institution banned the application from its employees’ work devices.

On his profile, you can see Metsola preparing Belgian waffles, imitate a Taylor Swift song and do there Twistees promotionan iconic snack from the Maltese brand.

In interview given to Euronews Last week, Metsola justified his decision to go against his own rules: “There was a choice to make: do we go on social networks (…) or not”.

“Four countries will vote at 16, one country will vote at 17,” she added. “What I don’t want is for these young people to potentially get their information from sources of propaganda or disinformation. So we said, let’s go ahead and get our message across, and hopefully once these kids scroll down, they’ll get something that says, “Oh, I like this, I’ll vote “. »

Gabriele Bischoff, a German MEP from the socialist left party and candidate for re-election, also took the plunge for fear of letting far-right candidates occupy space on TikTok.

“I wasn’t doing it (using TikTok) for a long time, then I saw how right-wing parties were using it and overwhelming social media,” she told Euronews, adding that she was using a device separate to publish their videos to avoid possible surveillance or data capture.

Green MEP Tilly Metz, also on TikTok, is of the same opinion: “If we really want to also address the very young, I think we cannot leave it to far-right parties again to be on TikTok as we say, with a sort of arrogance, no, I don’t like TikTok,” she told Euronews during an election debate earlier this month.

“It’s not about dancing on the table,” Metz added. “But it’s really about how we speak to young people and how we also give them the opportunity to respond. »

But others, like von der Leyen, intentionally avoid the platform, in a clear defiance of China, while the allegations Chinese interference in the European Parliament is increasing and the bloc is using its new digital rules to control TikTok.

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Raphaël Glucksmann, who is at the head of the French Socialist Party list, told French television channel France 2 at the beginning of the month that he had given up his 60,000 TikTok subscribers because of his position on China: “It’s a question of consistency,” he declared, “this social network is a pump (d ‘money) in the service of the Chinese Communist Party’.

Meanwhile, some of its French rivals have mastered the art of TikTok to consolidate their popularity. Jordan Bardella, the young protégé of Marine Le Pen and main candidate of the far-right National Rally, has taken TikTok by storm.

Bardella has 1.2 million followers on the platform, making him by far the most followed MEP on the platform. Its content ranges from public appearances ordering a “croque monsieur” in his native France to speeches denouncing von der Leyen’s Commission before the European Parliament.

Is time running out on TikTok?

Although the platform is a key tool for candidates and is also part of the European Parliament’s campaign toolbox, Brussels is putting pressure on TikTok.

Earlier this month, TikTok came under pressure to suspend a paid version of its app in France and Spain, after the von der Leyen Commission opened a formal investigation over fears of harm to the mental health of minors under the Digital Services Act (DSA).

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This is the second investigation into TikTok under the DSA, the EU’s new digital regulation, which could result in hefty fines or temporary suspensions.

The platform was also invited to strengthen its fight against disinformation in the run-up to the June election.

In von der Leyen’s native Germany, some MPs have also called for a tougher stance on TikTok, including a possible blanket ban, over security concerns.

The European Parliament’s spokesperson service told Euronews in a statement that its presence on TikTok aims to promote “trusted content related to Parliament, its work and its impact” and to “respond to content aimed at spread disinformation” against the institution.

“Millions of young citizens, among the first potential voters, use this platform to obtain information on the subjects that interest them. It is essential to prevent disinformation speeches (…) to increase the resilience of society and it is even more important a few months before the European elections,” adds the press release.

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