Young politicos have begun leveraging video-sharing platform TikTok, which has come under national-security scrutiny by the Trump administration, to help get out the youth vote for their respective parties.
It's a development that positions the upstart social media firm to take advantage of a valuable slice of the political marketplace dominated by social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for well over a decade.
Approximately 15% of TikTok's 100 million U.S. users will be first-time voters this year, according to an analysis of public data. About 60% of the app's users are between the ages of 16 and 24, Reuters reported in 2016.
"TikTok is relatively new, and the way people present information is not the same on any other platform, so we’ve taken the reins on that," Christopher "Topher" Townsend, 29, of Mississippi, told Fox News.
Topher is a rapper and Air Force veteran who started talking politics on TikTok last December and has since grown a significant following. He's also part of a group account on TikTok called the "Conservative Hype House," which is a collective of like-minded users who post conservative-leaning content on the app with more than 1.5 million followers.
"Hype houses" are not unique to conservatives. There are a number of different "hype house" collectives: Some are political, some are musical, and some are just groups of popular teenagers and young adults living lavish lifestyles. Members of some even live together in literal houses and produce content under the same roof.
"We have conversations where we bounce ideas off of each other, we discuss in-depth current events, and one of the things we're known for are our debates," Topher said. "We've hosted multiple debates between other TikTok creators, political pundits or other hype houses."
Aside from hype houses, there are other types of official political accounts on TikTok that represent county or state political parties, such as the Jefferson County, Texas, Democratic Party. Hype Houses also have accounts on other social media platforms like Instagram.
The anti-Trump Lincoln Project super PAC, which targets Republicans, has a TikTok account with about 40,000 followers, and MemePAC is a first-of-its-kind Gen-Z-operated PAC on TikTok that pushes anti-Trump content to its some 310,000 followers.
Jackie Ni, 18, started MemePAC -- which uses the images and other interactive digital content on social media -- about two months ago as a way to raise money and educate and impact its young following.
The PAC has three official Gen-Z team members, as well as a number of volunteers, and has raised about $3,000 in grassroots donations with the average between $5 and $10.
"Memes have a large impact on online political discourse, and they were a huge contributing factor to Trump's election in 2016," Ni said. "This year, I wanted to flip the switch on memes, using them to unsee, rather than support, Donald Trump, and promote progressive causes."
Much is at stake this year, Ni said: the response to the coronavirus pandemic, racial tension and "the democratic process itself." MemePAC is also a new member of the Democrat Hype House.
"I didn't actually know what a PAC was until I took AP government last year," Ni said, 'but after seeing the impact of Lincoln Project ... I wanted to create my own super PAC that focuses on the youth [similar to] how the Lincoln Project focuses on Republicans."
Both Ni and Topher expressed a desire to educate young voters about politics through TikTok.
"When I make videos, I actually have the article sourced in the background, I highlight the context, and I'm reading along with the article and explaining 'why this' and 'why that,'" Topher said. "That makes it more digestible for the young audience, I think, because a lot of times when you see news reporters ... on mainstream media, they tend to talk over the heads of people."
He added that members of the Conservative Hype House work to break down complicated information and source the material they talk about so that their followers trust the information they share.
"Technology has made information more accessible, so now, you have fact-checkers and all sorts of ways to verify if someone's telling you the truth," Topher said. "When I was young, I didn't have internet. ... We didn't have a place where we could just go to see if someone was telling the truth."
The Conservative Hype House has "absolutely" had an impact on youth voter turnout, he added.
"I've gotten dozens and dozens of direct messages from people telling me ... my information has helped them become an informed voter," he said.
While some discussions on TikTok can grow heated, Ni said, most are rational and productive, in part because the app's comedic atmosphere helps decrease tension.
The app's use as a political tool comes amid allegations by the Trump administration that its Chinese owner, ByteDance, poses a threat to users' personal data, making it a national security risk.
After the president signed an executive order that would bar the app from operating in the U.S. without American ownership, Oracle and Walmart announced a deal in which the two companies would split ownership of a new entity called TikTok Global, which would run the app's U.S. operations while ByteDance retained its majority share, but talks are ongoing.
A U.S. district court on Wednesday blocked the Commerce Department's order to remove TikTok from Apple's App Store and Google Play by Nov. 12 unless it shifts ownership, according to Reuters.