Germany's AfD is finding success on TikTok as its youth vote grows

Cardboard stands with the AfD logo lie on the seats in the Wiesenhalle before the start of the AfD Brandenburg state party conference.

Monika Skolimowska/dpa | Photo Alliance | Getty Images

Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has moved from the political fringes to the mainstream in recent years, consistently polling among the top three parties in the country.

And data shows that younger voters are now playing an important role in the party's growth.

At the state elections in Bavaria in 2023 analysis Polling firm Infratest Dimap showed that 16% of voters aged 18 to 24 supported the AfD – this was 9 percentage points more than the previous election and larger than the party's broader showing in the region.

In September's mock state elections for under-18s in Bavaria, the AfD added more than 6 percentage points, becoming the second-largest party with 14.9% of the vote. the organisers.

The AfD too rose by 8 percentage points and received 18% of the votes from 18-24 year olds in the 2023 state elections in Hesse, data from Infratest Dimap published shown by local media.

The AfD promotes anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism and anti-Islamic policies, and seeks to scrap the euro as the national currency, lift sanctions on Russia and abolish Germany's renewable energy law.

The party has faced widespread public criticism despite its growing popularity, including calls to ban the AfD and anti-right-wing protests.

German domestic intelligence services classify some AfD factions and politicians as the extreme right.

Traditionally, young voters are seen as more left-leaning, but voting data points to some differences, with experts pointing to social media and what they describe as online echo chambers.

“The 'rabbit hole' or tunnel effect quickly becomes problematic when it comes to political topics,” Eva Berendsen, head of communications and political education at the Anne Frank Educational Institute, told CNBC in translated comments.

This means that users are often only shown views from one political perspective rather than a range of opinions, she explains.

a study The publication earlier this month showed that more than half of 14-29 year olds in Germany use social media to keep up to date with news and politics. The research shows that 80 percent regularly use Instagram and 51% are frequent TikTok users.

Extreme right on TikTok

The AfD has found success on TikTok, while other German parties have mostly not been very active or have only recently joined the platform. For example, the official report of the parliamentary group of the CDU, the main opposition party and current leader in voter polls, typically receives fewer than 15,000 views per post.

In contrast, the AfD faction's videos often receive more than 50,000 total views, with many posts amassing hundreds of thousands or even millions of views over time. Video titles include “The Left-Green Online Stasi is Coming” and “Ms [Foreign Minister] Baerbock, you are the greatest danger to German foreign policy since 1949,” said a translation from CNBC.

At the time of writing, the AfD's parliamentary group had 414,000 followers on TikTok, much more than on other social media platforms such as Instagram, where they have amassed 108,000 followers.

Various AfD politicians, such as European Parliament member Maximilian Krah, are also successful on an individual level. Videos posted to Krah's account often reach hundreds of thousands of people on TikTok, as he talks about how “real men” vote for the right and oppose left-wing figureheads.

TikTok recently restricted Krah's account for repeated violations of the Community Guidelines, and his videos were not pushed to the platform's 'For-You' page for 90 days. Krah's most recent videos have been seen by thousands of viewers at the time of writing, and his previous viral content remains on his page.

TikTok has rules against content that exhibits hateful behavior, speech and ideology. But Berendsen told CNBC that it is one of the social media platforms where the tunnel effect could be a problem.

“Short videos that quickly convey simple messages and emotions are successful on TikTok – on such a platform populists have an easier time than anyone who makes an effort to differentiate,” Berendsen said.

These messages often reach young audiences with little background knowledge through TikTok, she added.

TikTok's algorithm is often seen as that of the app secret sauce and is crucial for user engagement. It adapts quickly and shows users similar content to what they have previously interacted with or viewed for more than a few seconds.

Social media strategy

“The AfD is far ahead of other parties on all social networks, because it is much more credible in comparison and because it represents positions that are in the interests of citizens,” an AfD spokesperson told CNBC in translated comments.

Far-right influencers are also active on the platform, using tactics such as emojis symbolizing far-right symbols – such as red, white and black hearts representing the flag of the Third Reich – to attract young people.

Content is often specifically tailored to attract young people, the German government agency for the protection of children and teenagers against harmful media (BzKJ) told CNBC.

“In many cases, extremist content is youth-oriented and professional. The messages are conveyed in line with youth culture, for example through the use of music, games, current topics or the people who post them,” a spokesperson said in translated comments. .

“It is often not immediately clear that this content is extremist.”

Emotionally charged keywords and topics such as family, equality and identity are also often used, says Berendsen.

An AfD spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that the videos and texts posted on social media are tailored to young people.

Rules and regulations

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