Too young to vote, but not to like: is Matteo Salvini attempting to reach under-age youngsters on Tik Tok?
Matteo Salvini, leader of the major Italian political party La Lega, with his 4,3 million likes on Facebook is one of most followed politicians in Italy. Last November he was the first (and so far the only) major politician to open a Tik Tok account (@matteosalviniufficiale) and, to this date, has gained nearly 350.000 followers and 3,3 million likes.
This text will focus on exploring how, by using specific affordances of the platform (hashtags and audios), Salvini is attempting to reach an audience of very young adolescents, who are too young to vote, but not to build consensus for the him and his party. This is not a comprehensive analysis of the Tik Tok profile, but rather one that aims at highlighting some features that recently emerged on the account.
Tik Tok is a social media platform where users can post videos up to 60 second long, the content is a mixture of lip-syncs (moving lips while an audio is playing in the background), dances, comic sketches, challenges (which display a specific series of actions themed with specific audio) and self narrativization of various forms (telling stories, real life events or expressing personal views on current matters). According to the New York Times(1) of its 49 million daily users in July 2020 in the US, Tik Tok estimated that some 14 million are 14 or younger (the minimum age required to access the platform is 13). Similar statistics were found true for western European countries(2) such as Britain, which the past spring had the 43% of the users of 14 or younger; Germany, which has the 35%, and France, that in February had the 45%. It is thus possible to assume that a similar composition can be found in Italy, given also the fact the many of the most followed accounts are owned by very young users: Marta Losito (@marta.losito) 16 and 4,1 million followers; Elisa Maino (@majno) 17 and 5,4 million followers; Marco Cellucci (@marcocellucci) 18 and 5,4 million followers; Luciano Spinelli (@lucianospinelli) 20 and 7,7 million followers.
Matteo Salvini is not new to targeting a very young teenagers for building consensus, in fact according Milena Gabanelli and Simona Ravizza of Corriere Della Sera, in the past he targeted 13 years old sending them “posts against the government that is thinking of taxing snacks.”(3) However, the strategy he employed on Tik Tok is different from what he has previously done, as on this platform youngsters are his primary target. In an attempt to exploit the frictions created by the new anti-Covid 19 measure introduced in public schools by the government, and more specifically the Minister of Education Lucia Azzolina, Salvini has posted a range of tik toks that criticized the latter. This was done not solely with the content of the videos, but also via hashtags, for example #scuola2020 (school2020) #maturità2020 (final year exams2020), #Azzonlia, #AzzonliaBocciata (which can be translated as “Azzolina failed” or “Azzolina flunked”). The latter ware already used by the Tik Tok community(4) as a way to express distress regarding the above mentioned measures or discuss the current situation, although not from the perspective of a political party. Being many users in the school age, they were and are directly affected by the very drastic changes in the education system. More than in other social media, on Tik Tok hashtags play a significant in expressing affiliation to an Idea or a movement. Literat and Kligler-Vilenchik, while di discussing the modalities of youth political expressions on Musical.ly, a social media that is now part of Tik Tok, highlighted that hashtags “created a space of shared visibility, where one could connect with like-minded audiences and also be visible to other audiences with different views.”(6) Thus, Salvini by capitalizing on the discontent is presenting himself as a like-minded alternative and depicting the political adversary as incompetent, de facto also partially hijacking the connotation of the hashtags.
Matteo Salvini also launched his own school-related hashtag, #SosScuola (SosSchool), as part of a wider initiative promoted by his party.
“Do you have any back to school related issue to report? Make a video with #SosScuola, reply to this video or write me on whatsapp at 3791360697. We are ready to intervene” (7)
This caption invited students to engage with his posts and potentially provide personal information such as phone number and perhaps even location, as they would report also were their school is situated. Salvini has done similar campaigns in the past, for example the controversial contest Vinci Salvini (Win Salvini), in which the first users to like his posts gained points in a ranking system and could win a short appointment with him. Mazzoleni and Bracciale described it as a operation of gamification and “a clever strategy for electoral marketing and gathering of users’s data.”(8) However, it is the first time that this is done targeting primarily an audience of non-voters, that are also likely to be 14 years old or younger.
To foster the his political self-promotion, Salvini was able not only to adapt to the visual language of the platform, but also to engagingly use audio, which constitutes a very significant part of Tik Tok. In fact, tik toks can be browsed via sound bites, as well as specific themes can become the vehicle of challenges or other type of memetic content. Regarding this matter Ioana Literat and Neta Kligler-Vilenchik argued that “the affordance of audio choice was an important element for political expression, as songs, speeches, sound bites, or recorded sound added another layer of meaning to the videos.”(9) It is possible to find a clear example of this practice in the last video posted by Salvini, captioned: “It is not necessary to add anything. #SosScuola #AzzolinaBocciata.” Users hear the Minister Azzolina talking about school desks with wheels, one of the the newly introduced anti-Covid 19 measures, describing the latter as “Innovative Methodologies” and “New Didactics” (these words also appear in the video), right after they are shown some youngster using their movable desk as bumper cars, while in the background is featured a mellow song. The contrast between the audios and the way they were paired adds a layer of irony to the scene, contributing to ridicule the Minister.
Targeting an under-age audience for political purposes is certainly ethically questionable, but perhaps from the perspective of self promotion may prove fruitful, as Matteo Salvini was able to slowly, but surely make his way to the 3,3 million likes. The sapient use of hashtags and sounds in this newly discovered political territory may produce a generation which does not necessarily share his idea, but is familiar with his persona and rhetoric. Thus, while this not necessarily grant him a vote, it obliges youngsters to take a stand, making Salvini a pivotal actor of the political discourse. As the professor Roberta Bracciale has commented regarding the politician’s Tik Tok account “he forces people to choose a side”(10), his or Azzolina.
All the translocations were made by the author, Thomas Ba
1 Zhong, Raymond and Frenkel, Sheera. “A Third of TikTok’s U.S. Users May Be 14 or Under, Raising Safety Questions.” New York Times. Published on the 14th of August 2020, updated on the 17th of September 2020.
Last Accessed 24/09/2020
3 Gabanelli, Milena and Ravizza, Simona. “Matteo Salvini e «La Bestia»: come catturare 4 milioni di fan sui social.” Corriere Della Sera. Published on the 20th of October 2019. Last Accessed 24/09/2020
4 #scuola2020 was viewed 23.9 million times, #maturità2020 64 million, #Azzonlia and #AzzonliaBocciata respectively 26.5 and 1.7 million
5 Although the platforms are different, it is possible to say that the use of hashtags and audio has remained unaltered or at least similar enough to allow a comparison.
6 Literat, Ioana and Kligler-Vilenchik, Neta. “Youth collective political expression on social media: The role of affordances and memetic dimensions for voicing political views.“ New Media & Society, Vol. 21(9), 2019, p.1988– 2009. Last Accessed 20/09/2020
DOI: 10.1177/1461444819837571 p. 2002
7 Salvini, Matteo (@matteosalviniufficiale) “Problemi al rientro da segnalare?Fai un video con #SosScuola , rispondi a questo video o scrivimi su whatsapp al 3791360697.Siamo pronti a intervenire.” Tik Tok, 2020. Last Accessed 27/09/2020
8 Mazzoleni, Gianpietro and Bracciale, Roberta. “La politica pop online.” 1st Edition, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2019. P.43
10 Bianchi, Leonardo. “Salvini è il re del cringe su TikTok, ma è pure l’unico politico italiano a stare lì.” Vice Italy. Published on the 15th of January 2020. Last Accessed 24/09/2020
-Bianchi, Leonardo. “Salvini è il re del cringe su TikTok, ma è pure l’unico politico italiano a stare lì.” Vice Italy. Published on the 15th of January 2020. Last Accessed 24/09/2020
-Gabanelli, Milena and Ravizza, Simona. “Matteo Salvini e «La Bestia»: come catturare 4 milioni di fan sui social.” Corriere Della Sera. Published on the 20th of October 2019. Last Accessed 24/09/2020
-Literat, Ioana and Kligler-Vilenchik, Neta. “Youth collective political expression on social media: The role of affordances and memetic dimensions for voicing political views.“ New Media & Society, Vol. 21(9), 2019, p.1988– 2009. Last Accessed 20/09/2020
–Mazzoleni, Gianpietro and Bracciale, Roberta. “La politica pop online.” 1st Edition, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2019.
-Salvini, Matteo (@matteosalviniufficiale)
_Salvini, Matteo (@matteosalviniufficiale) “Problemi al rientro da segnalare?Fai un video con #SosScuola , rispondi a questo video o scrivimi su whatsapp al 3791360697.Siamo pronti a intervenire.” Tik Tok, 2020. Last Accessed 24/09/2020
-Zhong, Raymond and Frenkel, Sheera. “A Third of TikTok’s U.S. Users May Be 14 or Under, Raising Safety Questions.” New York Times. Published on the 14th of August 2020, updated on the 17th of September 2020.
Last Accessed 24/09/2020