Like so many people, I found myself needing a creative outlet or two when Covid-19 moved all schools to virtual learning in March. So on May 1st I made my first TikTok video ever. The app was entertaining and even sometimes educational. In the middle of May I participated in something called a Blackout. The goal was to promote the content created by black individuals on the platform (TikTok would admit to one news agency that the algorithim tended to “shadowban” content by black creators.) As a result of that particular event, I ended up following several black individuals on TikTok.
When those same content creators began expressing their frustration about a campaign rally scheduled in Tulsa – once the home of Black Wall Street – on Juneteenth, I did some research. I knew about Juneteenth; I had NO CLUE about Black Wall Street. It didn’t take long before I understood why they were frustrated. So late on the night of June 11, I posted a video rant of my own. Keep in mind, TikTok videos are no longer than 60 seconds which isn’t much time! I had 1,002 followers at that time which is not a very large platform on that particular app. In the video I suggested a strategy that several friends of mine have used for years – reserve tickets for the rally and don’t go. I know how rallies work. I know that they will keep seating people as long as there are seats and I know that, for a presidential campaign rally, there is usually overflow. And after all, I only had 1,002 followers and my “biggest” video had been seen almost 200 times. How much impact could this Midwest Gen X grandma have with so few people seeing her videos?
The next morning I woke up to HUNDREDS of notifications on TikTok. My video rant from the previous night had been seen and shared a few thousand times. The number of people following me had tripled and the craziness was just getting started. 24 hours after I posted my video, there were 300,000 tickets reserved. At the end of that weekend, there would be over a million ticket requests.
A contributor from the website Dailydot.com reached out to me, interested in doing a story for their website after seeing the TikTok video. The thing that amused her the most? The fact that a GenX Grandmother was going viral on an app aimed at GenZ and Millenials. Donnie O’Sullivan, a reporter with CNN.com, saw THAT article and reached out to do an interview as well. He went so far as to reach out to Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, and discuss the TikTok video challenge with him. Understandably, Parscale blew it off. And then the rally happened and the stadium was about 2/3 empty.
The rest, as they say, is history. More interviews than I count with news agencies all over the world, a social media platform that has continued to grow (and has me feeling a rather serious sense of responsibility!), death threats, people sending me encouraging messages, people sending me messages in which they wish me severe bodily harm . . . it’s been one wild ride. Then again, this is 2020 so . . . anything could happen!
Let this be a lesson to everyone about social media – you have NO WAY of knowing what might go viral at any given time. Be prepared to back up what you put out there or don’t post it!