Could TikTok do for social activism what busing boycotts and massive marches did to effect change in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s?
A massive buying strike planned by women on the popular short-form video-hosting service to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade might just be a litmus test for future protests.
“TikTok has the power to spark an economic movement,” Nicole Penn, president of digital-marketing agency EGC Group that works with TikTok creators, told MarketWatch. “I think [TikTok] will be effective with reach and power on a scale unlike viral movements like Occupy Wall Street. It definitely has potential; I think so many people are frustrated and seeking action now.”
“It is a really viable medium to catalyze people,” Marty Reaume, chief people officer at Sequoia Consulting Group, told MarketWatch. “It is the new version of Facebook to drive people to organize.”
A TikTok member named @based_audrey suggested the idea of a strike Friday in a video viewed more than 1 million times. “It has become glaringly obvious that screaming on social media, fighting in the streets, and basically everything that we’ve tried isn’t f**king working,” she said, urging women to skip work and not buy anything.
“If we collectively refuse to participate in their economy and their class systems, and therefore cripple it, they will have no choice but to hear us out,” she said in the video.
A show of economic force by women via social media is a more effective pressure campaign and form of outrage than vowing to vote out members of Congress. Indeed, women direct 83% of all consumption in the U.S., based on numbers from Catalyst, a global nonprofit that helps build workplaces that work for women.
The protest movement in America — and before its formation — stretches to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and Whiskey Rebellion in 1791, in which consumers often took economic actions against the powers that be. Later, the Black community in Montgomery, Ala., joined to successfully boycott the city bus system in December 1955. Thousands demonstrated while hundreds camped out overnight in New York City during Occupy Wall Street to protest against economic inequality in September 2011. Around 600,000 people transferred their savings from major banks to community credit unions.
An advertising boycott of then-Facebook Inc.
in July 2021 over misinformation and hate speech got lots of attention but not much traction, underscoring the short-term impact of most movements.
But Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research points out boycotts can be effective when they tarnish a company’s reputation, particularly through negative media coverage, as they have with Facebook and others.
TikTok is an especially efficient way of reaching and organizing Gen Z activists because so many of them — more than 60% — use TikTok, according to the Forbes Technology Council.
In addition to the women’s buy strike, TikTok members who live in California, New York and other states where abortion is still legal have already begun offering their homes as safe spaces for women seeking abortions.
Meanwhile, others have suggested using sites such as Progressive Shopper, which uses data from the Federal Election Commission to inform consumers about the corporations funding political candidates and their committees. The website lets consumers search by issue, so they can determine which companies fund anti-abortion politicians.