Since the 2016 election, politics have become a bigger part of everyone’s lives, trickling all the way down to teenagers who are more politically active than they’ve ever been. TikTok, which is mostly known as a home for dancing and comedic content, has also provided a platform for Gen Z to organize Black Lives Matter protests, register voters, and even sabotage one of the President’s rallies.
One teenager in particular, sixteen year old Aidan Kohn-Murphy (@politicaljew), works tirelessly producing educational (and funny) political videos. We sat down with the creator to talk about all things politics and what teenagers can do to participate in this year’s election.
When did you first realize you had a platform on TikTok, and what was your reaction?
I made a video on how human rights shouldn’t be something that you can have an opinion on, and that ended up getting a few hundred thousand likes which was crazy to me. I never know if this is my cap or I can get bigger, because TikTok just randomly shadowbans my videos sometimes… so I’m always “like this is my peak”.
Earlier this year, teenagers on TikTok orchestrated a plan to empty out one of Trump’s rallies by reserving tickets and not attending. What was your reaction?
I didn’t find out about it until the day of, which is so sad because I wanted to reserve my tickets. I think it’s the perfect use of TikTok. Most people on tiktok can’t vote, myself included, so if we can do anything to hurt the President I think that’s great.
How do you think social media will play a role in politics in the future given how big of a platform TikTok is?
I think a lot of politicians are going to start using it to engage the youth audience. I helped run Senator Ed Markey’s TikTok, who just won his primary, and he was the first Senator to have a TikTok. What we found out on Ed Markey TikTok is it’s a great resource to engage young people, which is such an underrepresented demographic.
I lived in Los Angeles where he wasn’t even running and I still knew his name because of the account.
The whole Markey-verse… it was an insane social media thing.
How do you balance politics and humor?
I video I just made is a great example- do you know what white boy of the month is?
I made a video declaring candidacy for white boy of the month and my speech included all of these lines you hear so much, like “I’m just like you, I’m not a career white boy who’s been preparing for this moment for years, I’m the future and the change we need. This will be a long and tough campaign but I’m ready and I know you are too.” I was proud to use my political knowledge and annoyingly repetitive speech lines in campaigns. I don’t make political videos as much because to make them do well I have to get really vague, there aren’t that many people who are going to care about it if I make a video like Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin if he did something ridiculous.
Being so political on tikTok, how do you deal with harsh comments and reactions from people who disagree with you because there certainly are a lot.
When I’m dealing with Republicans where we’re dealing with a purely political issue, I’m secure in the fact that I’m right. Someone commented on a video, “oh then by your logic we should make clothes, housing, and food free or affordable because people can’t live without those” and I made a video saying “yes, we should”.
Do you know the guy @donelij who got banned because he’s homophobic and transphobic?
I made a video saying here are the profile pictures of the people who comment the most homophobic or transphobic stuff, and one of the pictures was his face but I didn’t know who he was I had just seen it a lot. He duetted the video [doing his notable smiling face then frowning when his photo was shown on screen], and he has 2 million followers so within five minutes I had hundreds of homophobic and anti-semitic comments.
That was really scary for a minute, but thankfully I messaged him and I don’t think he’s a great guy, but he took the video down which was nice. I took my video down just because I didn’t want any hate. Then I made a video talking about my experience with him and saying I don’t think he’s entirely a bad person at all but he’s definitely complicit in the hatred that his fans send to people. I’m used to criticism and I’m used to people not agreeing with me, but that really is a lot. It’s hard to be prepared for those things.
What do you think a creator’s responsibility is in controlling what their fans say and creating an environment on their account?
Donelij fans are often very young and close-minded, and of the feeling that straight men are oppressed because “the gays are out to get us” and “the women are out to get us”. If one of my fans robs a bank, then I’m not going to be held accountable because I never said to rob a bank. But if I say “go rob a bank, this is the bank you should rob and here’s how you should do it”, then I think I should be held a little bit accountable. If your videos identify people that you dislike and that you spread hate towards, then you shouldn’t be shocked when people send hateful comments.
How do you think Trump’s election has changed social media and do you think Gen Z is more politically active now or just louder?
I think both. When Hillary lost, it made me realize I had been taking a democratic president for granted, because of course I was alive during Bush but he left when I was four. Say what you will about Obama, but you didn’t have to worry about the president doing something absolutely insane every day for eight years.
So Trump was the spark that lit the fuse for you.
Yeah, and that goes for me and I think a lot of other people.
In the future when our generation is occupying politics, what is your hope for the world that they create?
A country based on equal opportunity with the bedrock that everyone can afford healthcare, to get an education, a stable life for themselves no matter who they are. The foundation has to be basic, inalienable rights.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll do this white boy of the month campaign for as long as I can milk it. Grand scheme of things, I’ll probably find myself in politics. I have two years to decide but I don’t see myself majoring in anything that’s not government or poly sci.
What’s your message to young people about the upcoming election?
Vote! Phone bank, volunteer, do everything in your power to get Biden elected.
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Make this election count.
If you could switch lives with any other creator for a day who would it be and why?
Probably Josh, last month’s white boy.
What trend do you want TikTok to be over with, that you’re tired of seeing?
The Poland trend. Do you know the trend of trying to find the polish flag in everything?
They show a flag and then they photoshop it to be the Polish flag and all it’s doing is if you crop it and change the hue and saturation you’ll make the Polish flag. I don’t know what the point is.
What is your favorite trend at the moment?
I have to go through my liked videos- oh! It’s not a trend, but her name is @clare.depaul. She does these videos where she mocks those TikTok fact accounts and just does nonsense ones.
Who is someone you were starstruck to interact with or become friends with online?
Kevin McHale from Glee, he was on my podcast and was just so nice. He kept complimenting me and saying he was a fan of my account and I was like really?
What’s a major change you’d like to see the platform make?
I want TikTok to hire people to check reported videos. I reported this video that had an anti-semitic message, and it took 20 minutes for TikTok to say that it didn’t violate any community guidelines.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. You can find Aidan’s videos @politicaljew on TikTok.