Platforms such as TikTok and Twitch are emerging as the new political battlefields, where serious topics are debated in their own less serious way.
Gen Z are shunning Facebook in vast numbers. While 79% of 12-34 year olds were Facebook users in 2017, this number was down to 62% in 2019. Edison Research, having asked Facebook users why they use the platform less, pointed to the unattractive environment of negativity, political rants and Mark Zuckerberg’s harvesting of data. This should not be misunderstood as disengagement with socio-political issues. As Facebook falls, new players rise.
At risk of stating the glaringly obvious: young people care. September 2019 saw the largest climate protest in history. It was organised by 16 year old Greta Thunberg and populated by millions of teenagers around the world. They just do not want to discuss such issues in the Facebook echo-chamber, locking horns with their mildly-racist second cousin who’s hell bent on being the UK’s #1 fake news super-spreader.
Here are three examples of the new Gen Z battlefields:
The wildly popular video sharing app (800m active users), famous for its silly dance sketches, has become an unconventional arena for political debate. In February 2020, a 20-second TikTok video of a teenage girl getting an abortion went viral. Set to Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain”, the experience is shared with the casual tone of teenage silliness. The debate blew up. Pro-life users thought the video to be a “sick & depraved” reflection of “the left’, while pro-choice users praised the video’s honesty. At the time of writing #abortion has 119m views.
The home of live stream gamers. Twitch’s 15m daily active users have also experienced the encroachment of politics in its own way. Trihex is a professional gamer that creates content on Twitch, live streaming to his 425k followers. An African-American man from Florida, Trihex is a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders (who has a verified Twitch account @bernie_sanders). In March 2020, Trihex streamed the US Democratic Bernie vs Biden debate. Mixing Super Smash Bros with political commentary, Trihex’s loyalties were laid bare, pleading Biden to stop with “these f****** lies dude”.
In another incident, while Trihex was live streaming, one of his followers gifted a paid subscription to the Trihex live feed to the @bernie_sanders account. It seemed as though Bernie has subscribed himself. Shared widely amongst the gaming community, Bernie’s first gameplay stream is eagerly awaited.
A smaller platform than the TikToks or Twitches of this world. YurOn is a video sharing app, whose USP is its conversation thread (released on the App Store April 2020). Full disclosure, I know the app well as I’m part of the team building it. We’ve seen 13 year olds share what they’re doing for the climate in 2020 and 18 year olds play around with yoga for mental health awareness. Here is a photo of myself trying to show our Gen Z users how woke I am. You can almost hear them cringing through their screens as they move the conversation onto biodegradable poo bags and the perils of plastic waste.
Gen Z social media natives want to address meaningful issues, but they just don’t want to address them in a stale environment. Facebook has become that stale environment and is paying the price losing users to the TikToks, Twitchs and YurOns of this world.
By Hamish Richardson