Did President Biden cleverly manipulate the Super Bowl so that the Kansas City Chiefs would win?
“I’d be in trouble if I told you,” Mr. Biden joked in his campaign’s opening post on TikTok, the Chinese social media platform that has 170 million U.S. users but few senior American politicians.
The video then cut to an image of the “Dark Brandon” meme – another attempt by the campaign to turn a right-wing conspiracy theory on its head.
Mr. Biden’s arrival on TikTok and the lightheartedness of his post highlighted his ongoing attempts to rebuild his support among young voters. After his aides hinted for weeks that he would join the platform, his campaign hit the ground running on its first video on Sunday night during the Super Bowl.
In the 30-second clip, the president dodged questions from an off-camera inquisitor.
Who would win the big game? (He dodged and noted Jill Biden’s fan base for the Philadelphia Eagles.)
Which Kelce brother did he prefer? (Again a diplomatic answer: “Mama Kelce.”)
And was he actually responsible for a far-reaching conspiracy theory being spread on the far right that the White House and the NFL colluded so that the Chiefs would win the game and somehow help his re-election campaign? (Cue “Dark Brandon.” Mr. Biden also shared an image of the meme on X shortly after the game, writing, “Exactly how we designed it.”)
Joining TikTok is a crucial turning point for the re-election campaign of Biden, who had officially claimed that he would not need his own TikTok account to reach voters and would instead work through influencers.
The move also carries some risk: TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and is banned on government devices in most states and at the federal level. Republicans in particular, but also Democrats and national security experts, have raised concerns about the control that China’s authoritarian government could exercise over the platform’s data and content shown to Americans. TikTok has dismissed these concerns.
The Biden campaign said Monday that it is “taking enhanced safeguards around our devices and integrating a sophisticated security protocol to ensure safety.”
This reluctance to use the platform has contributed to politicians and their campaigns’ reluctance to join TikTok despite the app’s growing influence. As of December, only 37 sitting members of Congress were on the app, and there were no official @POTUS, White House or Biden 2024 accounts, according to a New York Times analysis.
Among the Republican presidential candidates, only Vivek Ramaswamy had his own account. He dropped out of the race last month.
The app, once known for viral dance videos, has increasingly become a source of news and information, particularly for younger Americans. About 14 percent of U.S. adults said they regularly received messages from TikTok last year, up from 3 percent in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.
Last month, Biden campaign officials celebrated when a TikTok video from a North Carolina teenager whose home Mr. Biden visited racked up millions of views on the platform.
Whether the Biden campaign can make the 81-year-old president look cool on the platform remains an open question. In Sunday’s post, Mr. Biden wore khaki pants and a blue quarter-zip sweater with a microphone attached to the zipper. According to a campaign official, the questions came from Rob Flaherty, a deputy campaign manager.
“The President’s TikTok debut last night — with nearly 5 million views and counting — is a testament to our commitment and success in finding new, innovative ways to reach voters,” Flaherty said.
He took up another meme, this one about men’s supposed fascination with ancient Rome, adding: “I guess you could say our Roman Empire meets voters wherever they are.”
With another TikTok post on Monday, the campaign announced the types of issues it plans to highlight throughout the year and released a short compilation of clips of former President Donald J. Trump acknowledging his role in the repeal of the Roe vs. Wade.
Although TikTok does not allow paid political advertising, several campaigns have successfully used the app to build relationships with potential voters and help win races. Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, for example, counted TikTok among the tools he used to support Dr. Defeated Mehmet Oz in the 2022 midterm elections.