TikToker Link Lauren helped RFK Jr. build huge audience on the app

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In the polls, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a protracted shot impartial presidential candidate, struggling to compete towards the well-funded incumbent and his spotlight-grabbing predecessor. But on TikTok, Kennedy is a towering determine, with greater than 1.2 million followers.

“RFK Jr is making some of the best political candidate TikTok content ever made,” information content material creator V Spehar not too long ago posted on Threads, including: “This is not an endorsement, I’m just saying he’s broken through and is hitting millions of views day after day. Folks should pay attention.”

How Kennedy’s presence on the fashionable social media platform will have an effect on the November election is unimaginable to say. But there’s little doubt who’s accountable for Kennedy’s rise there: Link Lauren, 25, a politically eclectic content material creator who has shot to fame over the previous yr by protecting and collaborating with long-shot presidential candidates.

Lauren has amassed greater than 455,400 followers on his private TikTok account and almost 20 million likes. By distinction, the Biden marketing campaign has simply 274,000 followers, and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has no official TikTok presence.

With 170 million customers in the United States, TikTok is taken into account basic to reaching younger voters, who had been key to Biden’s 2020 conquer Trump. Kennedy employed Lauren as a paid senior adviser in November in hopes of reaching this vital demographic — although there’s debate over whether or not his marketing campaign is extra more likely to enchantment to Biden or Trump supporters. Last week, the bipartisan No Labels group introduced it gained’t subject a presidential candidate, leaving Kennedy as the most outstanding impartial candidate in the race.

Since becoming a member of the marketing campaign, Lauren has performed a key position in designing a few of Kennedy’s most profitable on-line initiatives, together with drafting the script for a latest video aimed toward voters underneath 30 who, as Kennedy says in the spot, “probably know my name but not much about me.”

In the video, Kennedy describes the political historical past of his storied clan, talks about his document as an environmental and antiwar activist and lays out positions meant to enchantment to voters beset by excessive rents and low charges of homeownership. It has been seen greater than 1.5 million instances on Instagram and has drawn hundreds of feedback.

Last month, in a separate video criticizing a measure transferring by Congress that might result in a ban on TikTok, Kennedy referred to Lauren as one in all his marketing campaign’s key staffers. “People love TikTok,” Kennedy mentioned in the video. “It’s the digital public square.”

Lauren is “a very, very good communicator,” mentioned Olivia Nuzzi, a political reporter for New York Magazine, who mentioned she thinks of Lauren as “a political influencer — somewhere between an activist and a reporter and an operative.” At a time when polling exhibits that many younger voters are skeptical of establishments and “not excited about either major party’s candidate,” she mentioned, “Link understands how to make complex issues and complex individuals palatable on the internet.”

Lauren mentioned he was drawn to the Kennedy marketing campaign — his first official job in politics — for the skilled alternative and to turn into concerned in the political course of. He has not expressed help for Kennedy’s extra unorthodox views. Kennedy, whose marketing campaign is managed by his daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, a former CIA officer, and contains communications director Del Bigtree, the CEO of an anti-vaccine advocacy group, has promoted false claims, excessive positions and shifting postures on a wide range of points. Kennedy has lengthy confronted condemnation for spreading falsehoods about the security of vaccines — claims debunked by main well being and science organizations and ones that Lauren doesn’t amplify.

Lauren mentioned he hopes to make use of the expertise to turn into an influential commentator — and maybe run for workplace himself. Many of his heroes have additionally blurred the line between political operative and media persona — an rising phenomenon on-line, the place many younger folks spurn conventional information sources in favor of social media content material creators.

“I feel like the most effective political figures today are media figures,” Lauren mentioned. “I look at someone like George Stephanopoulos who was Bill Clinton’s communications director in the 90s. He used that knowledge to go become an anchor and a journalist and report the news. For me, it’s being a social media personality and covering the news while doing a campaign.”

While Lauren describes his personal political philosophy as anti-establishment, he cites conservative influencers — Tucker Carlson, Glenn Greenwald, Tulsi Gabbard — as inspirations due to their sturdy private manufacturers and talent to build profitable impartial media companies. He not too long ago slammed conventional cable information retailers on X as “full of hypocrites who’ve sold their souls to peddle DNC talking points” and says “I love Fox News because they have the best ratings.”

Content creators surge previous legacy media as information hits a tipping level

Lauren grew up in Dallas, the place he at present lives, and attended New York University. He opened his TikTok account when the pandemic hit, however didn’t start posting in a major manner till after he graduated in 2022 with a level in music enterprise and leisure.

He began by protecting not politics, however popular culture. His breakout second got here final May with King Charles’s coronation. Lauren did hours of reside streams, amassing greater than 32 million views on TikTok that month alone.

That identical month, Trump did a city corridor on CNN, and “CNN viewers were apoplectic,” Lauren mentioned. “They were melting down. They were upset that Donald Trump was on their network. And so I got on TikTok and said, ‘These viewers need to calm down. You can’t live in your little silos … Trump has every right as a former president to go on any network.’”

His publish, he mentioned, was “very shocking to people because TikTok was such a left-leaning environment at that point.” But his stance earned him credibility with conservatives and independents, and his following started rising by the hundreds.

Within a month, Lauren was creating political content material frequently on TikTok, constructing a big following primarily by protecting minor presidential candidates. He interviewed self-help writer Marianne Williamson shortly after her on-again, off-again marketing campaign for the Democratic nomination kicked off final yr. He traveled to New Hampshire to movie with Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips (D), who later suspended his personal problem to Biden. And in January, he traveled to Iowa to cowl the Republican caucuses, the place he filmed content material with pharmaceutical entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has since ended his marketing campaign for the GOP nomination.

In individual, Lauren can converse as authoritatively about Gen Z YouTubers and actuality TV as he can the nuances of the electoral system. Ramaswamy’s marketing campaign says Lauren gave it recommendation on easy methods to succeed on-line.

“He has a quality that I think is increasingly absent in politics, which is that he genuinely wants to help people,” mentioned Tricia McLaughlin, Ramaswamy’s former communications director. “He’d give us advice, and be like, ‘Here’s what works for me.’ He wasn’t necessarily a Vivek fan, but we struck up a friendship.”

Lauren says his politics have developed since he was a university scholar. “When I was living in New York going to NYU, my political beliefs were a bit more one way. Then as you grow, you evolve, meet more people and you travel, your political views shift. I consider myself just an independent thinker, because I’m gonna call it like I see it, whether you’re Republican or Democrat.”

He mentioned his protection of right-wing candidates is a mirrored image of alternative relatively than ideology, including: “I never want to just cover one side of the aisle.” But, he mentioned, “When I started covering politics, the DNC didn’t want to have a primary, they were pushing other Democratic primary challengers off the ballots. So I was left to cover conservative politics. They were having debates.”

For now, Lauren sees a chance in chatting with youthful voters disaffected from the two-party system. “I’m like, let me get on here …,” he mentioned of his TikTok account, “because you’re not going to hear this on NBC or MSNBC. They’re going to gaslight you and say everything’s better under Joe Biden and everything’s amazing, and that’s not the case at all.”

Many younger folks at a latest Kennedy marketing campaign occasion in Los Angeles agreed with these sentiments. Phoebe Cutler, a 21-year-old faculty scholar attending together with her father, mentioned she voted for Biden in 2020, however gained’t once more as a result of Biden has not “improved the socioeconomic landscape” for younger folks. She mentioned she can be appalled by his stance on Gaza.

Though she reads the Economist, Cutler mentioned she will get a lot of her information from various sources like Russell Brand’s podcast and “citizen journalism.” “I try to take opinions from both sides and try to decipher my own,” she mentioned.

Lauren thinks legacy media has deserted younger folks like Cutler by being sluggish to undertake new codecs like TikTok.

“You can either resist TikTok or you can use it to reach people,” he mentioned. “Gen Z are not going to see the nightly news, so if you want to reach people you’ve got to get on these platforms and speak to them.”

Whatever occurs to Kennedy’s candidacy, Lauren mentioned he plans to proceed to create content material about the 2024 election. Even as he helps RFK flourish on TikTok, Lauren is working to build his personal following throughout platforms, networking with leaders in politics and media and contemplating launching a publication on the platform Substack.

Not way back, Lauren mentioned, he was approached about staging his personal run for workplace in his dwelling state of Texas — a prospect he finds interesting.

“I think if you really want to get things done,” he mentioned, “you have to be ready to get your hands dirty, get in the ring, and get to work.”





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