Loved for its fun, creative and quirky short videos, TikTok quickly established itself as a powerful force in global social media, but it has since emerged as a key weapon in political toolkits.  

Griffith University public relations scholar Dr Susan Grantham has been investigating how ‘poli-tainment’ (or political entertainment) has been adopted by Queensland’s political leaders to enhance their reputation and connection with the public.  

Looking particularly at the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the study looked at how TikTok’s unique features were leveraged to engage with and influence voters during the 2022 Federal Election, and how this compared with previously employed campaign techniques.  

Dr Susan Grantham
Dr Susan Grantham

Dr Grantham said the ALP became very active on TikTok in their most recent campaign and used popular culture to bring light to political issues.  

“They broke away from traditional political communication approaches and instead tackled their campaign with the use of humour, memes and cultural trends,” she said.  

“The TikTok algorithm pushes content to people based on their interests, so by tapping into cultural trends and memes, the ALP was able to get their content out to a much wider audience, and particularly a younger audience.”  

Where traditional campaigns have sought to portray candidates as illustrious leaders, social media has shifted the narrative to more of a “we’re just like you” message.   

“At a local level, we’ve seen David Crisafulli drawing on his Italian heritage, showing us how to make gnocchi and Stephen Miles making sandwiches in the kitchen with his daughter, which is a far more casual approach than we’ve seen historically,” Dr Grantham said.  

“Creating this genuine and relatable content allows them to break down barriers and connect with people who perhaps did not see themselves reflected and therefore less engaged in politics.” 

What hasn’t changed so much however, is the use of negative campaigning, with 86 per cent of ALP videos during the campaign period pointing to the opposition in a negative light. 

Traditionally seen in television ads or even in political cartooning, Dr Grantham said parties and politicians shifted to meme-driven humour on social media platforms around the 2022 election.