As the clock tick-tocks toward the 41st Nova Scotia election, some candidates are harnessing the power of social media to get voters engaged.
TikTok was still fairly new and wasn’t on the radar for most Nova Scotians during the last provincial election in 2017.
But as the video-sharing app — which is especially popular among Generation Z and Millennials –– surged in popularity over the last two years, some candidates are turning to it this time around to reach a new pool of people who traditionally don’t participate as much in politics.
Max Emerson Taylor, a former Halifax mayoral candidate who has more than a million followers on TikTok, said the growing platform could be a good way for politicians to connect with people by showing them a more accessible, personal side.
“It’s good if they have a platform on social media to kind of show who they really are, because behind the scenes with a lot of politicians, you don’t know what they’re all about,” said Taylor.
“Whereas if they’re posting things about who they are, you’re saying, ‘OK, I know this person now, I know their sense of humour, I know what they like.’”
Disappointed with low voter turnout in previous municipal elections, the 23-year-old ran for mayor of Halifax last year with one goal in mind: to get more people to cast their ballots.
“The goal was never really to win,” said Taylor, who finished third in the race.
“I wanted people to vote, I wanted people my age to vote specifically, and a lot of people my age voted and that was a really cool thing to see.”
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Despite his large online following, Taylor didn’t use TikTok during his campaign because he wanted to be taken seriously — though he still faced disparaging comments about his hobby and his age during the election.
As well, many of his fans live outside Nova Scotia and wouldn’t know much about the election. Still, looking back, Taylor wished he had used it more to get the word out about the importance of voting.
“Being a young person in politics, being brand new to the field, I was so focused on being taken seriously that I didn’t use the resources that were available to me,” he said.
“If you genuinely believe that what you’re doing is the right thing to do, there’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of fun to get the message out.”
One candidate who’s having fun on TikTok is David Paterson, the NDP candidate for Bedford South.
Paterson, a teacher who taught middle school last year, said he became “very aware” through his students of just how big a platform TikTok was.
“I know that TikTok is a very powerful and engaging way of reaching people, having really authentic and genuine conversations, and as a teacher, TikTok really fits with my teaching style in the classroom,” said Paterson, 32.
“It’s fun, it’s genuine, it’s authentic, but it also has a lot of meaning behind it in the messages we’re communicating with people.”
He was also inspired by federal party leader Jagmeet Singh, who got some attention during the last federal election for his TikTok videos.
Paterson created his first TikTok post at the end of June, as election speculation in the province ramped up. Since then, he’s attracted a following of more than 400 people.
He said he was concerned about low voter turnout — fewer than 54 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last election — and the more ways to engage with the public, the better.
“Low voter turnout is not good for democracy. People need to be engaged citizens, people have a right to have a voice in shaping a government that serves their needs as people in their province, and we need to make sure that people are engaged in that democratic process, especially young people,” he said.
“The decisions that government make impact young people on an everyday basis and it’s going to impact the future of their planet.”
So far, Paterson has posted videos of himself doing campaign preparations, such as building signs and preparing for a news conference, but he’s also used his platform to highlight issues such as climate change, wealth inequality and road safety.
The engagement so far has been “incredibly wonderful,” said Paterson, who said his TikTok account creates an accessible way for people to get ahold of him and ask him questions.
He also said the videos creates a sense of authenticity that can help break down the barriers between politicians and the public.
“I can reply, I can engage, I can make video replies, and it really creates a rich, back-and-forth two-way engagement that is quite meaningful and really important when running an election campaign to represent people,” he said.
‘A lot of fun’
Jill Balser, the Progressive Conservative candidate for the Digby-Annapolis riding, didn’t originally intend to join TikTok, but she’s glad she did.
“Just by creating these videos, I’m having a lot of fun and that’s really the energy I want to bring to the campaign,” said Balser, 35.
Usually, Balser’s social media app of choice is Instagram. But realizing that platforms like Instagram and Facebook aren’t reaching younger people as much as they used to, she created a TikTok account with the help of a 19-year-old campaign volunteer.
The TikTok account is still fairly new, with only three videos so far. The videos show her putting up election signs and picking up garbage on the side of the road.
Balser said she has lots of ideas for future videos. Through her work with community development, she said she has spoken to many young people about the things they’re concerned about.
“A part of my team that I work with are all folks under the age of 30, and their energy and their desire to also use these platforms and teach me in that capacity has also meant I can now take a political stance and be able to speak to solutions and driving actions in a whole new way,” she said.
“We need to address education and employment, and I really think that by looking at those social issues through that progressive lens, those are the messages that I want to be able to send.”
Balser said she believes TikTok — and whatever hot new social media apps that will launch down the road — will be important for candidates in future elections to reach young voters.
She added that in addition to being able to spread her message, she’s also having a blast making content.
“Having young people on my campaign is also teaching me to be bold, and be brave and use these platforms that you might not use before, because another thing that I’m learning is it really is a lot of fun,” she said.