TikTok Users Are Weaponizing Their Own Data Against the Trump Campaign

Published on July 2, 2020

After it was revealed that TikTok users and K-pop fans conspired to gobble up hundreds of thousands of RSVP’s to Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in Tulsa last month, Trump’s campaign data quickly became a hot topic on the app. In the weeks following the rally, dozens of videos have popped up explaining how to further mess with the Trump campaign’s data collection as we inch closer toward the 2020 Election.

The hundreds of thousands of fake RSVP’s may not have actually taken a seat from a Trump supporter at the Tulsa Rally (the RSVP is just that—an RSVP—not a reserved seat ticket), but they did account for a major upheaval of the campaign data collected up until the rally. Essentially, a voter that signs up to attend a political rally is often considered a prime voter that is almost guaranteed to vote for the candidate—that is, under normal circumstances.

Thousands of fake RSVP’s from non-supporters ruins the data collected from the Trump campaign because the campaign can no longer determine which voters are likely to actually vote.

Even if there were 500,000 legitimate voters that RSVP’d to the event, the fake data throws away all of the data collected up until the rally because the campaign cannot determine which RSVP’s were real or fake. Even the Trump campaign admitted, prior to the Tulsa rally, that the event was a major data haul that it needed for the upcoming election. Now, going into the future, the campaign will have to be careful in determining which potential voters are legitimate, high value voters, and which are simply trolling the campaign.

The Trump campaign has said it will slow down on in-person events due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, but TikTok users are still creating content to teach each other how to further mess with the campaign data collected in these next crucial months. A single search for “Trump campaign” on TikTok will yield dozens of videos, each with tens of thousands of views, on how to ruin the campaign’s data and waste their spending budget on voters that are not interested in voting for Donald Trump at all.

One video from a user named @dryvids demonstrates how users can help waste Trump campaign dollars by deliberately getting social media sites like Facebook to target them as potential voters. The videos instruct teens (many of which cannot vote at all) to fill out Trump’s campaign surveys through their phone browser and interact with his social media pages to alert Facebook that they’re likely to interact with his advertisements.

The Trump campaign, which has invested heavily in social media advertising, will only end up spending millions of dollars on voters that have no interest in voting for him as a result.

Much like in Tulsa, the strategy also ruins the data collected by the campaign by falsely reporting that millions of potential voters are supportive of Trump’s campaign—all while false survey data reports whatever results TikTok videos are urging users to fill out. One user called @emoni_316 created a video using audio from a now-private account called @yessigd00 that explains how to waste campaign money with this strategy. The video has been shared more than 13,000 times and the audio has over 1,000 videos attached to it. But it doesn’t stop there. Other users are going after his merchandise store, where shopping cart abandonment plays a key role in preventing actual shoppers from obtaining Trump 2020 merchandise.

“I’m thinking about what a shame it would be if everyone realized that if they went to Donald Trump’s merch store and filled their cart up with as many things as they could and then got distracted Googling the damaging effects shopping cart abandonment has on online shopping, and then just forgot to come back and check out. That would be a shame. Definitely don’t get the word out,” says audio made by a now-private user named @ProbablyTom in a video made by @preveroni that has been viewed more than 2.8 million times since it was published on the platform mid-last month. In the video, the speaker is seen scrolling through their cart full of Trump merchandise which racked up a tab of over $1 million dollars.

Millions of teens on TikTok immediately began shopping on Donald Trump’s online merchandise store to attempt to shut it down, keeping products from supporters that are looking to make a real purchase.

The audio from the @preveroni video has now been used to create over 1,200 separate videos in which TikTok users show off the exorbitant shopping carts that they’ve created in an attempt to shut the Trump merchandise store down.

For online businesses, shopping cart abandonment poses a major threat because it deducts the item from the shop’s online inventory to assure that no one can purchase an item that has actually been sold out. If someone were to fill their cart with merchandise in an online shop and then abandon the cart (meaning they keep the cart full without making a purchase), the items cannot be sold to other buyers until the cart has either been deleted or the purchase is completed.

But staffers with the Trump campaign, as well as officials at Shopify, claim that the tactic won’t be as threatening to the Trump merchandise store as they think.

Shopify claims that the platform does not reserve inventory when carts are filled to avoid this problem specifically. However, some TikTok users have reported finding that most, or all, of the merchandise available on Trump’s online shop is consistently out of stock.

Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for Trump’s 2020 campaign, responded to criticism on Twitter that claimed the campaign did not account for shopping cart abandonment in its code. Parscale’s tweet alludes that the campaign did consider it, and has created its website to account for shopping cart abandonment as a way of preventing losses.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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