When thousands of empty seats greeted President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the weekend, young TikTok users were among those who took credit.
TikTokers, mainly members of Gen Z, had shared or created videos encouraging their followers to register for free tickets to the rally—with no intention of showing up. These videos were viewed millions of times on the app, according to the New York Times.
This type of mobilization on TikTok, a platform that skews young, is not new. While many teens on TikTok post brief videos of themselves dancing or their pets doing something funny, they also use the app to give their followers a glimpse of their struggles and opinions with videos that discuss abortion, mental illness, or their political beliefs.
Glory Perez, 20, created her account, @moodycowgirl, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. While educational TikTok videos on different movements existed, she noticed that hardly any of them focused on reproductive justice or had positive abortion messaging.
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“There was a lot of anti-abortion content,” said Perez, a student, educator, and organizer based in Texas. Under hashtags like “#AbortionIsMurder,” conservative TikTokers post videos comparing abortion to slavery and saying how glad they are their parents did not abort them. The anti-choice organization Live Action has amassed 100,000 followers since it joined the app last August.
And so Perez started making videos that “were fun and easy to digest” while scrolling TikTok at 2 a.m. one day. “I spent that night just making a list of all the topics I wanted to cover and the current trends at the time,” Perez said.
Since then, Perez has created videos that explain reproductive justice, how to get a judicial bypass with support from Jane’s Due Process, ways to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement beyond posting a black square, why gendered language in health care is problematic, and how abortion funds work. The TikTok video on abortion funds has been her most popular, with over 133,000 views.
@moodycowgirlabortion funds r amazing! go to abortionfunds.org to find your fund! 💖 ##fyp ##foryoupage ##foryou ##moreyouknow ##texanshelpingtexans♬ original sound – kasey.smo
“A lot of people truly did not know that these funds existed, so a lot of comments were like, ‘I might need this later,’ or ‘Thank you, I’m in the middle of a scare right now.’ Those comments really made me happy because it affirmed why I started making these videos in the first place,” Perez said.
For content creators focused on abortion, reproductive justice, and evidence-based health education, TikTok offers a new tool to reach their audience.
Abortion Access Front, an organization of comedians, writers, and producers supporting reproductive rights, had already been using video and social media for advocacy. In April, the group uploaded its first TikTok video, as part of its mission to normalize abortion through humor, positive messaging, and facts.
Lizz Winstead, founder of Abortion Access Front and a co-creator of The Daily Show, said young people appreciate the “interesting messaging that speaks to them” on TikTok more than older social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter.
“Seeing your feelings reflected back at you in as many ways as possible, in a world where you’re roundly ignored, I think is really, really crucial,” Winstead said. Young people are “speaking very distinctly, clearly, bravely, and proudly [about what they believe], and if these other platforms and online spaces are not speaking to them in a way that they want on issues they care about, they’re going to speak to each other in a way they care about.”
Krysten Mayers, or @krysmay on TikTok, is a 23-year-old third-year medical student who presents medical information to over 780,000 followers. In her TikTok series, “Daily Dose of Health Facts,” Mayers shares information on topics like menstrual periods, personal hygiene, skincare, and puberty that most of her audience may be hearing for the first time.
@krysmayCONGRATS to @keila.castillo1 🥰 Go follow her and @carlosexplains ❤️ Who’s gonna win this one?! ##period ##krysmay ##SafeguardSplash ##foryou ##pov ##viral♬ Physical (Instrumental Version) [Originally Performed by Dua Lipa] – Elliot Van Coup
Mayers started the series earlier this year, knowing the app’s target audience was “mostly children and young adults,” adding that many young people are not taught certain topics in health class, nor do they always have people in their life to provide guidance about their own bodies and health. As someone who’s enjoyed working with children all her life, Mayers said she represents all the young people who wish to either “grow up and become health-care professionals or who just want to learn more about their health.”
“I serve as a safe-space platform where many of these people can decrease their anxiety and fears as they enter a very essential time period of their growth and development,” said Mayers, whose followers often call her their “TikTok Mom” or “the doctor they wish they had.”
“Many have stated that they thought something was wrong with them, or they are happy that it’s happening to other people as well, because they felt alone,” she said. Her goal is to ensure young people are “learning something new and interesting every day on my channel and keep that strong, trustful bond that we have smoothly developed.”
Winstead said she wants people of reproductive age to get the health care they need and want in the way they want to get it—and to talk about the hurdles they’re coming across and the type of stigma they may be facing. For people who want to better understand the complexities of young people’s lives, Winstead suggests joining TikTok—and listening to them.
“People [on TikTok] are constantly talking about abortion, birth control, and sex-positive stuff in a way that is really great. Service them there, listen to how people are talking, hear what they care about, take their lead, and then help amplify their messages as well as create messaging in a way that they care about,” she said. “If you want to know the emotional core of what people who are younger care about, and how oppression is affecting them, that is the place to go. You don’t have to wonder. Go there and let them tell you. It will make you a better activist.”