The Youth Lab


In this week's 52INSIGHTS, we explore "The TikTok-ification of Politics," examining how polititions are leveraging TikTok to reshape their images and connect with younger audiences, amidst evolving digital landscapes and the challenges of navigating security and ethical considerations.

Did a feared Indonesian general become a Gen Z favorite by using the platform? Did Joe Biden actually join TikTok or was that a deep fake? In 2024, why are neither of these questions outlandish?

Once a platform for dance challenges, TikTok now dances to the rhythm of political campaigns and it is reshaping the political landscape, turning feared figures into lovable leaders for the digital generation.


2024 is already shaping up to be the year of "Gen AI" (generative artificial intelligence) But it is also a seismic year for democracy, with general elections in the world's largest democracy, India and the world's oldest democracy, The United States.

There’s also a good chance of elections closer to home in Ireland and the UK and there will be EU Parliament elections in June.

There have already been elections in the world’s 4th and 5th most populated countries, Indonesia and Pakistan. All in all, by the end of 2024 nearly 3 billion people will have gone to the polls.

This is coinciding with a time when, on a macro level, the world is becoming an ever more tumultuous place:

“In total, 61 countries saw a significant decline in their social progress in 2023 and 77 more stagnated. Only 32 countries saw any real progress. This downturn marks the world's first social progress recession in the past decade, primarily attributed to declines in Health, Rights, Voice, and Information & Communications.” -


TikTok and politics is something we have written about before. But the recent general election in Indonesia, and the role that TikTok has played in it, was not necessarily where we saw this story going when we penned it nearly two years ago! Yet, in a country where 50% of the electorate is aged between 17 and 40, social media was always likely to play a central role.

In a plot twist worthy of True Detective, Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a former general who was dismissed from the military amid allegations he was involved in human rights violations like kidnapping and torture, transformed his image using TikTok. This is a platform used by a generation that doesn’t remember the brutal military repression of the Suharto regime, of which “cute” Prabowo was a part.

[Check out the brilliant oscar nominated documentary “The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer for more on the subject]

Dancing and cuddling his cat, his followers termed his campaign “Gemoy” or “cute”. His followers even created animated avatars of him using AI and this cartoon version became one of the enduring images of the election.

It was not just a novel approach - it was an extremely successful one, contributing to the enormous lead Prabowo has amassed in the preliminary counts. And, although the counting continues at the time of writing, Prabowo is pacing at more than double the amount of votes of his nearest rival, way over-indexing even those numbers, with 66% of the share of vote of 17-25 year olds and 60% of the vote of 26-33 year olds.

“If humans don't continue to be discerning and thoughtful when making critical decisions like electing their governments, then we do have something to fear indeed.”
Cormac (24), The Love Network

But it’s not just military strongmen who are joining TikTok. Even the President of the United States has joined, a man who signed a bill in 2022 prohibiting the use of TikTok on devices owned by federal employees, an action taken due to national security concerns related to TikTok’s Chinese ownership and the potential for data privacy issues.

But Biden (or at least his team) has taken to the platform reasonably well. The first video was a quiz style video ahead of the Super Bowl. With the exception of this decent come back at Jimmy Fallon’s mocking of Biden on TikTok most of the content has been attack videos against Trump using news and press conference clips. It’s unlikely that Biden’s TikTok gambit will be as successful as Prabowo’s unless his team seriously up their game.

It’s not like Democracy is at stake here…


AI - particularly in the form of deepfakes - is already making its impact felt.

In the January New Hampshire Presidential Primaries a ‘robocall’ (a phone call that uses a computerized autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message, as if from a robot) made headlines as it mimicked the voice of Joe Biden. Using his tone, syntax, accent and catchphrases the receiver heard this short message.

It’s unlikely that many were caught out but nonetheless it serves as a chilling harbinger of the onslaught of fake content that is likely to swamp the November US election.

"The AI deepfake situation in elections is a definite concern, it is and could continue to be used to manipulate public opinion through deception. I feel like there should be some sort of technological solution or legal policy for content created through AI. Gotta safeguard that democratic integrity worldwide, you know?"
Megan, 24, The Love Network


While all of this is very serious and foreboding there are key lessons to be learned for brands and marketers.

Embrace Digital Platforms - particularly TikTok, if you are not yet on the platform.

If Generals and Octogenarians are doing it - why can’t you? Engage with younger demographics by utilising these incredibly popular and effective platforms, which can enhance brand visibility and appeal to Gen Z consumers.

The AI boom is going to continue to boom but it comes with a lot of caveats and watchouts.

Be Mindful of Security and Ethics - While leveraging new technologies, consider the ethical implications and potential security concerns associated with platforms and AI to maintain trust and integrity. If you don’t have a code of conduct or governance around emerging technologies. Now is the time to consider it.


Our Founder, Jane McDaid, was a participant on the panel, alongside other industry leaders (from Enterprise Ireland, Accenture, Boys & Girls, Red Dog and Tiny Ark) at Dublin's Google Foundry to discuss the future of Ireland's economy in relation to AI - an event created by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with IAPI. She spoke about the generational divides that are already emerging with AI as well as the actions we've undertaken at THINKHOUSE to ensure that we're adopting all of the AI tools and integrating them into the future of our business from a training and testing perspective

Read all about it here.

Interested in the B Corp movement? Join us on March 21st at 9am in Dublin city centre for B Lab Ireland's first Meet the B Corp event. Learn directly from Irish B Corps and connect with like-minded individuals. Our client from innocent drinks Ireland will be there alongside representatives from other B Corp certified companies including Baileys (Diageo); The Handmade Soap Company, Armada Hotel and THINKHOUSE. GET YOUR FREE TICKET HERE


To get a weekly insight drop that will keep you connected to what's happening in youth culture email 'SIGN ME UP TO 52INSIGHTS' to