Jenice Kim/The New York Times

TikTok Teens’ Time

Kim Bellard


I knew about TikTok, but not “TikTok Teens.” I was vaguely aware of K-Pop, but I didn’t know its fans had common interests beyond, you know, K-Pop. I’d been tracking Gen X and Millennials but hadn’t really focused on Gen Z. It turns out that these overlapping groups are quite socially aware and are starting to make their influence felt.

I can’t wait for them to pay more attention to health care.

This is the generation that has grown up during/in the wake of 9/11, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the 2008 recession, the coronavirus pandemic, and the current recession — not to mention smartphones, social media, online shopping, and streaming. Greta Thunberg is Gen Z, as is Billie Eilish, each of whom is leading their own social movements. This generation has a lot to protest about, and a lot of ways to do it.

They were in the news this past weekend due to, of all things, President Trump’s Tulsa rally. His campaign had boasted about having a million people sign up for the rally, only to find that the arena was less than a third filled. An outdoor rally for the expected overflow crowd was cancelled.

Source: TikTok

It didn’t take long for the TikTok Teens/K-Pop fans to boast on social media about their covert — to us older folks — campaign to register for the rally as a way to gum up the campaign efforts. Steve Schmidt, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, tweeted: “The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @realDonaldTrump.”

One social media influencer explained to The New York Times:

It spread mostly through Alt TikTok — we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism. K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want.

Most doubt that these efforts had much to do with the low attendance — it can be more likely attributed to concerns over COVID-19 and/or the concurrent Juneteenth celebrations/Black Lives Matter protests — but they were responsible for cluttering up the Trump campaign’s efforts to collect supporter/donor information from the registration. As a subversive guerilla marketing campaign, it was brilliant — and effective.

It was not their first such involvement. One of the surprises with the BLM protests have been the number young people in attendance, of all races. Jose Antonio Vargas, an immigration advocate, described the coalition of young white, black, Latino, and Asian protesters as “a new kind of majority…We have arrived at a real cultural shift.”

Pew Research Center recently profiled Gen Z, finding them more ethnically and racially diverse, more education, more tech savvy, and, politically, “progressive and pro-government.” They are not, as you might have guessed, likely to be Trump supporters. Axios predicted: “Generation Z is coming of political age…Gen Z is likely to continue engaging even after the [BLM] protests end because of the power of smartphones and social media.”

Earlier this month, in The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany profiled how K-Pop fans (or “kpop stans”) had broadened their social media efforts to support social movements, such as BLM. She described their strategy:

They would not use any of their normal promotional hashtags to boost their favorite music, instead keeping themselves and the platform focused on the message of Black Lives Matter. They would repurpose accounts that normally track chart positions and celebrity Instagram posts to instead disseminate information about how to support the protests. They would clog up every police department’s digital efforts. They would flood racist hashtags like #whitelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter with more concert footage to render them useless.

Reuters described TikTok’s involvement in the BLM protests as its “Arab Spring” moment, comparing it to Twitter’s importance in those events. “Because the BLM movement has been present in society for such a long time, my generation has been able to use TikTok to spread awareness through the lens of a young person’s mindset,” one teen said. One BLM organizer pointed out: “The younger crowd does not want to be on Facebook and they are not on Facebook. They are on SnapChat and TikTok.”

Political strategist Tim Fullerton told The Washington Post:

The bigger story, long-term, is that it’s really impressive to see young people using TikTok as an organizing tool. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of that in the lead-up to November. That’s a difficult audience to reach, so it could be a powerful tool. They’re using their voice in a new and different way and engaging people. They clearly did something that hadn’t been done before.

All that is great, but it doesn’t mean Gen Z is also leading the charge on healthcare, even during the pandemic. They’re no more likely to wear masks than other age groups, and are less likely to get vaccinated for it once one is available. In many states experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, young people are increasingly being the ones infected.

Not many masks — or social distancing. Credit: ABC11

NPR reported: “some public health experts said the increase is because some younger adults may perceive they are less at risk than their parents or grandparents and are more likely to venture back into society as it reopens.” That attitude is part of the reason that young people may be unwittingly spreading the disease, according to results from Japan.

Dr. Thomas Tsai, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, warns:

We need to change our whole thinking about COVID-19 during this stage of the pandemic. It’s difficult to contain the virus physically because you have younger individuals, who may be pre-symptomatic or mildly symptomatic, who are going about their normal lives and reengaging with society.”

Epidemiologist Dr. Judith Malmgren told NPR that reaching Gen Z is different: “They are not reading print media. You need to be on social media. You need to use short sentences. You need to use very direct messaging.” Another epidemiologist, Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, added: “I think young people can potentially have a very, very valuable role if we can harness their energy and attention.”


This is the generation that is going to inherit our apathy towards climate change and huge budget deficits. It shouldn’t have to inherit our dysfunctional healthcare system as well. If they are looking for big, important social challenges, well, Defund Health Care!



Kim Bellard

Curious about many things, some of which I write about — usually health care, innovation, technology, or public policy. Never stop asking “why” or “why not”!