German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is looking to TikTok -audience approval, it seems. (Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images)


Down wi da kidz? Germany’s Schulz looks to TikTok amid AfD’s rising popularity


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he wanted the Government to open an account on TikTok, apparently amid concerns about the hard-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party’s strong social media presence – seemingly trumping security worries about the Chinese-owned platform.

While mainstream politicians and parties are starting to adopt a low-key presence,  those such as the AfD are leveraging the platform in a bid to connect with younger voters ahead of a slew of regional and State elections later this year.

The AfD, which has surged in polls over the past year to second place, has more than twice as many Facebook fans as mainstream parties, according to an analysis by Johannes Hillje, a political and communications consultant working in Berlin and Brussels.

AfD also has around 10 times as many subscribers on video-sharing site YouTube and its videos have been shown 10 times as often on TikTok, he said.

Scholz, asked about this disparity at a citizens’ forum on February 29 in Dresden, the capital of the Eastern State of Saxony, a far-right stronghold, said his Government was “considering” opening an account on Tiktok.

“And I believe this is right,” he said.

Germany’s security agencies warned against using the video-sharing app over concerns it could share data with China’s Government or be used to influence users.

Countries including the US, Britain and Austria last year banned it from government employees’ work phones.

On March 1, a German Government spokesperson said Berlin still “needed to check” the situation thoroughly before launching an account, noting members of the Federal press office could not access the app on their government-authorised phones.

“But, fundamentally, Tiktok is a platform that is especially intensely used by young people – and we have to recognise this despite all justified criticisms of the platform,” the spokesperson said.

TikTok said security warnings were unwarranted and it did not collect more information than other similar apps.

ByteDance, which owns TikTok, has denied using it for spying. Beijing has also repeatedly denied having any intention to use the app for espionage.

Hillje said the AfD’s increased focus on TikTok was likely to be among reasons for its improved results among first-time voters in recent State elections, after much less approval from that section of the electorate in the 2021 Federal vote.

“Western governments are stuck in a dilemma,” said Hillje, who worked as campaign manager for the Greens in 2014 and is now a freelance consultant. He noted that the AfD “appealed much more” to voters’ emotions on social media, despite it currently having few seats in Parliament.

A post from the AfD’s leading European Parliament candidate last year, for example, appealed to all the “young men without girlfriends”, saying “real” men were right-wing and that they should not resort to left-of-centre parties – or pornography.

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation think-tank warned in a study last year that TikTok’s algorithm would not “reward” measured political statements as highly as the more “extreme” ones.