A coordinated effort was underway on TikTok in the days leading up to Trump’s Saturday rally, encouraging people to register online for the free event and not show up. TikTok is normally thought of as a platform for dancing teenagers and not, necessarily, political action.
A Trump campaign official pushed back on the suggestion such posts played a role in the turnout, telling CNN, “We had legitimate 300k signups of Republicans who voted in the last four elections. Those are not [TikTok] kids. It was fear of violent protests. This is obvious with the lack of families and children at the rally. We normally have thousands of families.”
While the TikTok effort seems to have overwhelmingly involved teens and other young people, Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother living in Fort Dodge, Iowa, appears to have played a central role in encouraging people to go to Trump’s website, register to attend the event — and not attend.
And then, alongside the choreographed dances, comedic dares and schoolyard pranks, the grandmother’s prompt became a challenge of its own. Inspired users began posting videos showing they too registered for the event. Similar posts on Instagram and Twitter clocked up thousands of likes.
One video, with more than a quarter of a million views, called on fans of South Korean pop music in particular to join the trolling campaign. Fans of the music, which is known as K-pop, are a force on social media — they posted over 6 billion tweets last year alone. And they have a history of taking action for social justice causes.
Earlier this month, K-pop fans rallied around the Black Lives Matter movement, drowning out “White Lives Matter” and other anti-Black hashtags.
Laupp, who said she worked on former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign in Iowa last fall, told CNN she made the initial appeal when upset that the rally was originally set to take place on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The Trump campaign dismissed the effort last week. Erin Perrine, principal deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, told CNN on Tuesday, “Leftists do this all the time. They think if they sign up for tickets that will leave empty seats. Not the case at all. Always way more ticket requests than seats available at a rally. All they are doing is giving us access to their contact information.”
TikTok, owned by a Chinese company, has previously caught the attention of US lawmakers.