The Greek national elections were the world’s first to be held since lawmakers in the US, Europe and Canada escalated efforts to restrict access to TikTok - the wildly popular short-form video app - on the grounds that it may endanger sensitive user data.
It is therefore an oxymoron that a social media platform considered to be detrimental to democracies, is used by politicians themselves as a strategic communication tool for the amplification of their campaigns.
Numbers don’t lie. According to 2022 TikTok data, Greece had 2.6 monthly active users, equivalent to 25% of the country’s electorate. The Gen Z group, some 400,000 of Greeks eligible to vote, would do so for the first time, and also dominate the use of TikTok with 44 per cent of total Greek users.
TikTok’s immense popularity among young users made it an ideal platform for political engagement. With its visually captivating and bite-sized content, TikTok allowed politicians to connect with a vast audience, often reaching demographics traditionally less engaged in politics.
Incumbent Prime Minister’s Kyriacos Mitsotakis TikTok debut was imperious with 3 million views and skyrocketing engagement on either side of the political spectrum. While a post from the leader of the main opposition party Alexis Tsipras also made waves with a total of 2.7 million.
TikTok’s influence disrupted the traditional methods of campaigning, forcing politicians to adapt their strategies, with political rallies and speeches taking a backseat. For the first time in Greek election history, party rallies attracted small crowds, with leaders preferring intimate gatherings in indoors venues or neighbourhood squares.
An instant, intimate connect
The ability to convey messages through concise and impactful TikTok videos enabled politicians to connect with voters on a more personal level, engaging them emotionally and sparking meaningful conversations. The viral nature of the content also amplified the reach of political campaigns, enabling messages to spread rapidly, often transcending traditional media channels.
The landslide victory of the New Democracy party, surprised pollsters, analysts and commentators due to the unexpected increase of its electorate base by more than 1 million votes, opening an unassailable 20 per cent gap with opposition party Syriza ahead of the June 25 run-off election. Communications experts suggest that TikTok played a part.
Users, many of whom had never engaged with politics before, found themselves actively participating in discussions, sharing their opinions, and mobilizing their peers to vote. The viral nature of TikTok content gave rise to a new breed of political influencers, whose impact rivalled that of traditional media outlets.
Politicians and political organisations around the world must navigate this rapidly evolving digital landscape and harness its potential. Those who do so ethically and effectively can increase their chances for success.
Watch out for deep-fakes
But the rise of fake news and the so-called, ‘deep-fake’ videos that leverage AI tools create seemingly authentic Trojan avatars to spread misinformation cannot be ignored. The app struggled to clamp down on disinformation and hate speech ahead of last year’s presidential election in Kenya.
The 2023 Greek Parliamentary Elections will be eventually settled on June 25, and according to the old electoral law and conventional wisdom, party campaigns may have little effect on the final outcome, as trends formed over four years cannot easily be reversed in a 30-day campaign, however well-rounded.
The rapid pace at which information spreads and narratives are reshaped and evolve on TikTok will compress timeframes and intensify the political landscape. TikTok can witness the rise and fall of political trends, the reshaping of public opinion, and the transformation of political discourse.
A month of political campaigning on TikTok will feel like an eternity due to its ability to drive conversations and shape public sentiment in such a short span, signifying its immense impact.