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Germany's AfD on TikTok: The political battle for the youth

March 30, 2024

More and more politicians are courting young voters on TikTok. In Germany, one party is more active than any other: the far-right Alternative for Germany. And they've already scored some success.

Maximilian Krah
Maximilian Krah is the AfD's top EU election candidateImage: MAX SLOVENCIK/picturedesk.com/APA/picture alliance

Maximilian Krah is not your typical TikToker. He's a middle-aged white man, wears a suit with a handkerchief tucked into the pocket, is Catholic, has eight children and is a politician. His short video clips feature him doing nothing more than delivering short statements.

And yet he is very successful, reaching hundreds of thousands of people on TikTok, making him one of the most successful German politicians on the platform.

Krah also happens to be the lead candidate for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the upcoming EU elections. And he is one of the party's most radical figures.

AfD aiming to reach younger audiences

In one YouTube video, Krah expressed his enthusiasm for the Taliban's fight against LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan. TikTok also restricted his channel in March 2024 and blocked some of his videos.

In response to a written request, a company spokeswoman told DW: "Due to repeated violations of our community guidelines, we informed the user that any future videos he posts will not be recommended for the "For You" feed for a period of 90 days, in compliance with our guidelines for political accounts." In other words, TikTok put Krah on probation.

Screenshot: Tiktok.com Alice Weidel AfD
The AfD has gained some traction on the social media platform TikTokImage: tiktok.com/@alice_weidel_afd

The politician has strategically tailored his short clips to the platform. They are short, easy to understand even without sound and have lots of quick edits. The titles and messages are provocative and emotive — using language aimed at younger audiences: "The government hates you," "Your mother will end up poor in old age," or "Don't watch porn."

Krah isn't the only active AfD politician on TikTok. Party leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla also post short videos with a wide reach. In the past, the party hasn't been very popular with young people, but it's determined to change this.

TikTok videos are influencing elections

In an interview with DW, political and communications consultant Johannes Hillje said he is convinced that the far-right party's strategy is working. 

"There is no correlation between TikTok use and voters' choices, but they cannot be completely separated either," he said. In two major regional elections in Germany in 2023, the AfD saw the biggest gains among young voters. "TikTok played a role in that," said Hillje.

One of the main reasons the AfD is able to reach young voters is that the major German parties have limited presence on TikTok. While politicians in other countries, such as Barack Obama, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Argentina's President Javier Milei, Poland's President Donald Tusk and many others have been very successful in publishing short videos, nothing much comes from Germany's political elite. Hardly any well-known politicians and very few politicians from the governing parties are active on TikTok.

Grannies vs. the Right take on AfD in far-right stronghold

Hillje has found that each video posted by AfD parliamentarians generates around 458,000 views. Lagging far behind is the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the parliamentary group led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with just 72,000 views per video. But Scholz recently indicated that he intends to create his own account very soon.

Emotions for democracy

But simply posting videos isn't a real strategy, warned Hillje. "Other parties should not simply copy the AfD and its techniques, but must foster democratic sentiments and base their communication on that," he said.

Hillje recommends strong political debates and sharper, more focused communication. It's also important that politicians are visible on an individual level. Otherwise, he said, they will lose young people on the platform and end up leaving the playing field to voices like Krah.

Krah has been relentless in his nationalist, anti-queer and conspiratorial provocations, arguing that the "elites" have a master plan to destroy Germany through immigration or that the left wants to convince young people to be "soft."

Screenshot TikTok AfD im Bundestag
Several AfD Bundestag members have made use of TikTokImage: tiktok.com/@afdfraktionimbundestag

Due to its repeated anti-democratic rhetoric and links to far-right organizations, the AfD has attracted the attention of the German national security authorities. Business associations, trade unions, churches and numerous civil society organizations have also warned that the AfD poses a threat to democracy.

EU passes law to combat disinformation

With hate speech so widespread on social media, EU politicians have said they want to take stronger action to combat it. With this in mind, the European Union has passed the Digital Services Act (DSA). Among other things, the DSA requires internet platforms to better protect their users from illegal content. Platform managers who violate the DSA could be fined up to 6% of their annual turnover.

TikTok has said it has already implemented the law. The company said in a statement that the platform will now also "proactively" remove the bulk of illegal and other harmful content that violates its guidelines. As of September 2023, this amounted to 4 million posts.

This article was originally written in German.

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Hans Pfeifer Hans Pfeifer is a DW reporter specializing in right-wing extremism.@Pfeiferha