TikTok Activism: "Don't Be Afraid To Talk About What Matters To You"
We spoke to Xanny, a content creator using social media as a tool for change.
The last two years can be almost equally defined by the pandemic and the rise of TikTok. Between dance videos and trending sounds that you can’t get out of your head, the app provides a perfect platform for entertainment (or procrastination). However, its ability to amplify the voices of ordinary people can do more than make someone go viral; it can help spread activism.
In a time when the government feels more and more out of touch with the needs of young people, social media is being increasingly used to challenge the status quo. Xanny, a content creator and musician from London, has built an audience on TikTok by discussing the topics important to him, particularly politics. In doing so, he encourages others to collaborate and also use their voices for good.
Let’s start at the beginning: You use TikTok to educate and empower others surrounding political issues and topics relevant to our generation – where did this idea come from?
At first, I was posting trends like everyone else does, for “silly” reasons. I had always been into climate and politics from school but had never paid too much attention until I started reading more articles. That was a big turning point for me; last summer I started making loads of TikToks speaking my mind about climate change and, over time, my content switched from being less meaningful to things I thought were more important. [I started] talking about climate change and other political issues from my standpoint.
Did your following grow when you made this move towards more “meaningful” content?
At first, it started to go down because my original following wasn’t interested in that. There was a dry spot where I wasn’t gaining many followers but, over time, I started rebuilding and rebranding and from there it has been a constant upwards trend.
Do you think your success is TikTok specific?
I think it’s definitely TikTok specific; the way the algorithm works pushes out new creators and amplifies voices you would never have heard of before. I think TikTok creates a space for anyone to speak up, not only about politics, and gain a following doing and speaking about what they care about.
If TikTok didn’t come about, I don’t think I’d have gotten into [activism] as much, or be able to have as much of a voice as I have now.
Do you also use TikTok to educate yourself?
I guess I could say TikTok is the start. I’ve always been a curious person by nature so I think seeing people talk about things on TikTok if it sparks my interest I go and research it more. I think social media, and TikTok, are beneficial because it sparks that interest.
I think the one dangerous thing about TikTok is the attention span it’s giving people - they don’t want to pay attention anymore! I make my videos based on what would capture me. As I have ADHD, I have a very short attention span, but I can work with that and hope it works with everyone else as well!
Do you feel pressure having over 100K followers watching your videos?
Oh, 100%! Every single day I wake up and think, “I need to think of something that people are going to get on board with”. Especially with things like politics, people don’t see it as cool or interesting so they don’t necessarily care about talking about it.
It’s starting to change now as people realise there’s a problem, but for a long time there has been a disconnect between people our age and politics. That means there’s a pressure to make this cool for people like me - even I didn’t care about it for a long time! I have to try and “reverse engineer” it based on how I was captivated, in order to get more people interested.
Do you feel like your activism has helped open a wider conversation away from social media?
Very recently, I started a discord server to create a space for people to talk about this.
I think because I’m young and not trying to preach that politics is something you have to pay attention to, it makes it more relatable. I look like everyone else so it helps break that disconnect between young people and politics.
Part of the reason you created your discord server (which now has over 400 members) was to help organise the largest demonstration since the 2011 riots. Can you tell me a bit more about this idea?
The idea has been in the back of my mind since last summer. As I have learnt more about what’s going on in the world and paid more attention to politics, I’ve realised the reality of the state of the UK.
To some degree, everyone in the country can agree that there is a problem. I thought “okay if everyone thinks there’s a problem and wants something to change, how about I just throw myself out there”. I don’t necessarily have all the plans but I thought we could slowly work towards it. It feels like everyone is sitting still and, though I don’t have the answers, I have the vision!
© TikTok by @xannyxannyxanny
You are very vocal that you don’t want the demonstration to be violent. Do you think this will make it more successful?
Yeah, 100%. I think [the government] almost wants us to be violent because it proves their point of “this is why they can’t be in charge because look what happens when they are”.
The thing that was flawed about the 2011 riots was that even though everyone was outraged and knew something was wrong, the people that were ultimately affected weren’t the government, but small businesses and personal homes. We’re just destroying ourselves if we’re violent. I think there are smarter ways to approach it without burning the country down!
As well as politics and climate change, are there other topics you hope to encourage the discussion of?
I’m just passionate about fairness and everyone being able to live their best life possible and, therefore, any issue that counteracts this possibility.
BLM is important because it marginalises a lot of people and racism is a massive issue. It’s the same with climate change, the political state, the economy, homophobia and LGBTQ+rights.
I feel like a lot of people get hellbent on one issue that they forget about the rest. Some issues will affect me more than others however, you have to realise that as “regular” people we are all on the same level. No matter which issue affects me more, we all have to help tackle them. BLM supporters need to go to LGBTQ+ protests and vice versa!
Beyond the demonstration and continuing to grow your TikTok, do you have any goals you want to achieve with your activism?
I feel like I have somewhat of a voice now but I want to be at a point where I can reach the world! If I went outside most people wouldn’t know who I am, so I want to get to a point where I can connect with everyone and (hopefully) make the entire world better.
If you aim as high as you possibly can, wherever you land is an achievement.