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Gen Z influencers who supported Biden in 2020 turn against him

In 2020, hundreds of top TikTok content creators banded together in service of a single goal: get Joe Biden elected. They posted videos, hosted online events and spent hours educating followers to help Biden defeat Donald Trump.

Four years later, the coalition once known as TikTok for Biden is now called Gen-Z for Change – and so far, it has not endorsed Biden’s reelection.

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“Biden is out of step with young people on a number of key issues,” said the coalition’s founder, Aidan Kohn-Murphy, 20, who called “the frustrations of young progressive leaders a barometer of widespread dissatisfaction among Gen Z voters.”

Across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch, anger and resentment toward Biden are boiling among Gen Z content creators who say they feel disaffected and betrayed by Biden’s positions on an array of issues, including the war in Gaza, the climate crisis and the president’s decision to support a potential TikTok ban. The rift has been exacerbated by the White House’s evolving strategy of courting friendly influencers while shutting out others who have been critical of the administration.

When Biden took office in 2021, the White House sought to fortify its relationships with Gen Z content creators, working with them to promote the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine and briefing them on key issues. At one such briefing on the war in Ukraine in 2022, press secretary Jen Psaki and Matt Miller, special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, told influencers that Biden viewed them as the “new media” and would strive to keep them informed.

Lately, however, the influencer strategy seems to have shifted, both at the White House and within the Biden campaign, influencers say.

“I have noticed that there have been a lot more events with creators, but the creators that are getting invited are the creators who are very pro Biden and just parroting talking points or sharing photo ops of them smiling with the President. Not the creators who have been critical,” said Kahlil Greene, a history content creator and education advocate in Washington who said he hasn’t been invited to the White House since he criticized the administration over the TikTok ban and the war in Gaza.

Annie Wu Henry, a political influencer and digital strategist who has worked on Democratic campaigns, agreed. While the White House once treated creators as independent media, she said, they now seem to be playing favorites.

Biden’s team “is trying to say that they’re handling influencers like the press. But the thing is, the press briefing room has to have Fox News no matter what. They have to allow all of the media in,” Henry said. “When it comes to influencers, they only let in people who agree, and anyone who gives even a little bit of pushback is not welcome.”

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This picking and choosing has had stark consequences for Biden: In the first four months of this year, nearly a quarter of top left-leaning content creators on TikTok have posted anti-Biden content, according to CredoIQ, a social media analytics firm, with those posts collectively amassing over 100 million views.

Much of the anti-Biden content is being posted by young, non-White liberals with “shared ideology that the U.S. Government, and specifically Joe Biden, want to stop the flow of free speech and information,” CredoIQ found. “This perceived assault on free speech is enabling anti-Biden sentiment to leap from a smaller demographic of pro-Palestine young progressives” – who are outraged by Biden’s support for Israel as it wages a brutal war in Gaza – “to a potentially market-moving bloc of unenthusiastic young voters that are upset with the TikTok ban.”

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult, two-thirds of Gen Z voters – 67 percent – say Biden’s decision to back legislation that could lead to a TikTok ban has made them less likely to vote for him in November. Smaller groups say they have been turned off by the president’s handling of the war in Israel (46 percent) and Biden’s approval of new oil and gas drilling projects on federal land (38 percent).

A White House spokesperson said administration officials “continue to have substantive meetings and discussions with creators who hold a variety of viewpoints – including those who disagree with us on important issues.”

“This White House has taken historic steps to engage digital creators, and works hard to meet Americans where they are,” the spokesperson said. “… We’ll continue to elevate their voices and utilize a variety of platforms to reach Americans who don’t closely follow traditional news.”

Democrats have long struggled to compete with conservatives online. While Trump and other conservatives enjoy the support of a vast cohort of right-wing content creators and platforms, Democrats have tried to recruit influencers to amplify their message. As president, Barack Obama courted Vine stars and sat for interviews on policy initiatives with YouTubers during his second term. During the 2020 campaign, Biden established a partnership team for influencers in July, shortly before the Democratic convention.

This time around, the Biden campaign started its influencer outreach earlier and on a broader scale, according to a person familiar with the strategy. Dozens of staffers are focused on courting content creators, and the campaign has partnered with more than 550 of them. It is advertising for a manager position to develop partnerships with meme pages – social media accounts where users post entertaining images and videos – that pays up to $85,000 per year.

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While some influencers feel unfairly excluded, Biden supporters say the campaign is genuinely struggling to respond to a rapidly evolving media landscape in which some influencers think of themselves as traditional journalists while others are paid for their views.

“I think they’re in a political pickle. There’s just not a traditional comms structure for creators,” said pro-Biden political content creator Keith Edwards. “If they were press, this type of [restricted access] would be outrageous, but they’re in this strange space where they occupy media attention, but they’re not traditional press. And I don’t know if anyone knows what the right way is to engage. Is it traditional press outreach? Is it paid [marketing] work? This is something we’re all learning together as the media is quickly shifting.”

To help recruit new online supporters, the Biden campaign has contracted Village Marketing, an influencer marketing firm, which began sending outreach emails in April to a slew of popular content creators, according to emails viewed by The Post.

“We’re reaching out on behalf of the Biden-Harris campaign team in search of social media supporters for the 2024 election!” said the email, which offered creators the chance to become “an official campaign partner.” Those interested were directed to a portal where they could link their social media accounts and provide access to account metrics like audience data.

Village Marketing founder Vickie Segar said many creators are hesitant to post about politics given the contentious online climate and decisions by various platforms to downgrade political content.

“We are here to talk it out with any creators who are hesitant [about Biden] and who have questions,” Segar said. “I hope that we have even more people participating as we get closer to the election. We want to get President Biden elected, we agree with his values and policies, and we’re here to support that.”

But creators are less eager to sign on to a political campaign in 2024 than they were in 2020. On TikTok, for example, many creators who were relatively new to the industry four years ago and working to build their followings have become powerful multiplatform influencers running profitable media businesses that reach tens of millions of young people. Today, they say they expect more in return for their support.

In 2020, “Gen Z put Biden in office with our voices and with our platforms,” said Hassan Khadair, a content creator in Birmingham, Ala., with 6.3 million followers on TikTok, 2.8 million subscribers on YouTube, a podcast and a robust following across myriad other apps.

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This time around, Khadair said, “He has to earn that vote. We’re not just going to give it to him because we don’t want Trump to win. We did that once. We’re not doing it twice.”

Gen-Z for Change Executive Director Elise Joshi, a content creator and climate activist, said she hosted Zoom calls with hundreds of other young people in 2020 outlining why they should vote for Biden. Now, she said, she and others her age have a host of reasons for feeling betrayed.

Back then, Joshi said, she appreciated Biden’s climate policies and how he said he planned to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Today, Joshi said, Biden is permitting record-breaking oil and gas extraction on public lands while “doubling down on the fossil fuel economy.”

Joshi said she and others also are frustrated with Biden’s “mishandling” of the pandemic, which remains “a crisis and we can’t even get masks in health-care settings.” While “combating the pandemic was a focal point of Biden’s campaign in 2020,” she said, “now it doesn’t seem to be a top priority.”

Finally, Joshi said many young people are outraged by the administration’s failure to negotiate an end to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. “The group that rallied people around Biden in 2020 is the same group that built a tool sending over 100 million emails to the government urging a cease-fire,” she said.

Joshi said she doesn’t mind being left off guest lists for events like the White House Christmas party for digital content creators. What angers her is the president’s failure to engage with Gen Z influencers’ substantive concerns, she said – though she acknowledged that the White House climate office recently contacted her directly regarding a pause in the approval of new liquefied natural gas projects.

“I prefer having a meaty climate strategy conversation with them than to get an invite somewhere,” Joshi said.

Alaina Wood, a Gen Z sustainability scientist and content creator, said she also has felt cut off from the Biden administration since becoming more critical of his policies. “As soon as I was like, I’m not going to praise you all the time, I’m not going to be a propaganda piece for you, they stopped talking to me,” she said.

Wood and other creators said they are skeptical that Biden’s latest attempts to recruit influencers would make a material difference in Gen Z support for his reelection.

“If the comment section of my videos are any indication,” she said, “a lot of people, especially young people, do not want to vote for Biden again.”

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