It’s a wonder to me why people still watch Saturday Night Live when it airs. That’s not a knock on SNL: The show still has its moments, and Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong are as good as anyone who has appeared on the show over the decades. But why watch a 90-minute program when you can watch the guest monologue and the show’s various skits online and skip all the commercials?
The show’s latest cold open imagined the virtual meeting White House officials held last week with about 30 “influencers” on TikTok. The skit was intended as a parody, but I wonder if millennials whose worldviews are shaped by TikTok videos found it all that funny. The SNL characters didn’t seem all that exaggerated.
One of the influencers the White House invited was Victoria Hammett, a 23-year-old who almost daily posts short TikTok videos of herself talking about “politics and stuff.” I’m surprisingly simpatico with Hammett on some issues, including the need for healthcare reform. Hammett distilled her argument into a 9-second video, putting my verbosity on the subject to shame.
And here’s Hammett’s analysis of Covid vaccine and other data.
I have no scientific evidence to back up this claim but watching Hammett’s videos I think my brain shrunk. To Hammett’s credit, the recent grad from the disgraced University of Southern California has already been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, replete with the glamour photo of her choosing.
Hammett is the deputy executive director of Gen-Z for Change, a group formerly known as TikTok for Biden that according to the Journal comprises 500 TikTok influencers who collectively have about half a billion followers. To put that into perspective, the combined audiences of the NBC, CBS, and ABC nightly news broadcasts garner only 21.3 million viewers. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the top-rated show on cable, last year averaged a mere 3.2 million viewers.
It’s frightening to me that a person’s views on healthcare could be shaped or altered by a nine second video, but it seems that for a new generation it does. No need to read a compelling article or two, let alone a book, if someone perceived as trustworthy can purportedly do all the heavy thinking and lead a person to an informed position.
“Whether people agree with it or not, digital creators and influencers have become a source of truth to many, especially millennials and Gen Z,” Krishna Subramanian, CEO and founder of Captiv8, a data analytics firm that analyzes influencers,” told the Journal.
Statistics appear to bear Subramanian out. Less than 14 percent of the Washington Post’s subscribers are under 55, compared to 61 percent of the U.S. population. This signifies that to a huge swath of the U.S. population, the Post and likely other legacy publications aren’t perceived as delivering better quality information than what Hammett and her TikTok influencers provide.
As noted by Media Matters for America, it isn’t hard to game TikTok’s content. The liberal watchdog group reported on Friday that a pro-Russia propaganda campaign has snared more than 180 TikTok influencers to promote the invasion of Ukraine.
“TikTok’s platform is being used to depict a glamorized version of the invasion of Ukraine and promote Russian support for it,” Media Matters said. “By promoting narratives of both Russian victimization and support for the war through these influencer’s posts, these trends serve a more insidious purpose of amplifying content that valorizes the Russian war effort and manufacturers consent for its invasion of Ukraine.”
That TikTok tolerates Russian propaganda shouldn’t come as a surprise. The social media site is owned by ByteDance, a China-based company. China has yet to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion, let alone condemn the attack.
It’s disappointing how the free speech of Americans is increasingly determined and controlled by foreign entities. Joe Rogan, the comedian whose willingness to invite guests critical of the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates sparked celebrity furor, has had more than 100 of his episodes removed by Spotify, which is based in Sweden.
What’s clear is the legacy media’s leaders have their heads in the sand. “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell reportedly makes between $6 milllion and $8 million a year to deliver the network a third-place finish, a paltry 5.1 million viewers. That’s a rounding error for for Charli D’Amelio, the 17-year-old dancer who has amassed more than 137 million followers on TikTok. I’m not familiar with D’Amelio’s views, but frankly I’d be more interested in learning them than I would O’Donnell’s. D’Amelio strikes me as considerably more likable.
It seems to me that the legacy media should be focused on positioning itself as more reliable and trustworthy sources of information than TikTok, but they prefer to promote their own often false narratives, which are increasingly unpopular with much of the country. The existing strategy is questionable because most of the public distrusts the legacy media.
My thoughts turn to the philosopher Mortimer Adler and the writer Charles Van Doren, who in their 1972 revised “How to Read a Book” characterized people whose worldviews were shaped reading newspapers of that era “learned fools” because they absorbed lots of facts but didn’t understand their broader meaning and significance. Adler and Van Doren argued that reading books was critical to making sense of the world.
I imagine Hammett’s TikTok videos have Adler and Van Doren rolling in their graves.