When TikTok Trends Serve Far-Right Movements: The Far-Right Babies Generation
By Livia Giannotti
Estelle Redpill, 120.000 TikTok followers, 25 years old: if the number of followers is staggering, her age is all the more peculiar. In fact, she is not the average trendy, girly, vibey Tiktoker who awakens millions of teenagers every month. Yet, she does embody the absolutely ideal influencer: ex-model, charming traits, stylish outfits, neat makeup. All the conditions were set for her to become yet another one of 20 million influencers of all kinds, posting daily short videos of themselves performing simple dances or movements, paced by famous tunes, or putting on witty memes, countless trends or challenges in their bedroom.
Estelle Redpill, however, acts for a new generation, a cohort of far-right babies who knock down the stereotypical extreme-right supporters. Her advocacy starts at the mere choice of her pseudonym, Redpill, a reference to the American movie Matrix, of which the red pill became the icon of conversion to an extreme-right ideology. And this purpose seems to be decently achieved, given the thousands of comments Estelle received on a daily basis, mostly posted by teenagers who seem to agree with her doctrine.
Marta Ceccarelli, who holds a major in digital anthropology with a specialization in new media platforms, tells me that all the viral TikTok trends -from “Tell me without actually telling me” to the “What’s living in your head rent-free” and the “YesNo challenge”- are exploitable to “play with the media’s affordances”; in other words, if the content offered by the platform is confined to a video memes format, it can yet be as diverse as needed. It includes political, as well as mainstream, or even religious content. This is precisely the movement’s main asset: embodying the figure of the desired and approved influencer so as to infiltrate popular trends, in order to convey heavy beliefs through light formats. Ceccarelli believes that, indeed, the phenomenon of casualization of extreme politics (in that they are more and more present in society as well as on social media), inherently results in an impression of reduced importance of context and depth that ,yet, should follow such dense creeds. Through this subtle, ironic, and witty communication, the granularities and complexities of the matter in question are easily wiped out. What you see is just one more teenager reproducing the usual trends, just as others did before them. What you see is merely an angel face. But if you look closer you will come to realize that, sugar-coated by the usual TikTok appealing aesthetics of good lighting and neon LEDs, are not-so-angelic beliefs. Take Redpill, for instance, but also ThoniaFr – with her fellow 60 000 engaged TikTokers – who openly responded to a comment by posting a video “The solution? Sending foreigners home” and other xenophobic statements.
As Ceccarelli explains, these aesthetics furthermore serve the “targeted audience reached” purpose. That is to say, they give rise to an impression, felt by users when closely relating to the content offered by the TikTok famous “for-you page”, a section in the application dedicated to unlimited and personalized content, based on appreciated content and aesthetics. This generation of far-right influencers successfully managed to use TikTok’s algorithms so as to create a niche within the platform: a subtle but worryingly powerful one. They have the same face, the same gestures, the same dances, and songs as Addison Rae or Charli d’Amelio (their American 100 million followers peers), but they operate in a very different dimension, with clear political interests (at least to themselves).
Adding political ideas to popular trends could indeed be some sort of Gen Z propaganda, one which gives political parties direct access to today’s youth. The numbers in France show that this strategy is working: according to IFOP ( International market research group), 28% of 18-25-year-olds in the country have voted for extreme-right parties before, with 38% of 16-25 years old making use -according to the French newspaper Libération- of this social media application.
With the French elections near at hand, the virality of such personalities is quite alarming, especially for the left-wing, which, in Marta’s belief, is mostly represented by the platform as an “ alternative post-left, more representative of millennials opinion of a US-centric left”. Thus, there is no real effective response to the far-right threat by left-wing influencers. In fact, the content-based recommender system used by the platform certainly plays with the young public’s inclination to be talked into these angel faces’ opinions. However, the platform denied every accusation of promoting far-right content and affirmed to the French press that hateful comments are banned and punished. It claimed to have no incentive to push any particular rhetoric, let it be that of left or right-wing movements. However, as Marta Ceccarelli reminded me, it does have the incentive to push high-engagement subjects. And, as a matter of fact, far-right opinions are part of this latter category.