With just over three weeks left until Italy’s general elections on Sunday, September 25th, political leaders are taking their campaigning to TikTok, the video-sharing platform beloved by teens and counting 16 million Italian users.
Former premiers Silvio Berlusconi (leader of Forza Italia) and Matteo Renzi (leader of Italia Viva) were among those who joined the channel in the past few days, posting introductory videos that were widely shared online – most likely thanks to their entertainment value, rather than political substance.
Ciao ragazzi, eccomi qua. Vi do il benvenuto sul mio canale ufficiale #Tiktok per parlare dei temi che più stanno a cuore a Forza Italia e al sottoscritto e che vi riguardano da vicino: parleremo e discuteremo del vostro #futuro Vi racconterò di come vogliamo rendere l’#Italia un Paese che possa darvi nuove opportunità e la possibilità di realizzare i vostri sogni. Ci rivediamo presto su TikTok ! #silvioberlusconi #berlusconi #elezioni #forzaitalia🇮🇹💪❤️ #politica #giovani
85-year-old Berlusconi, who’s arguably never been one to shy away from the cameras, opened his first official message to fellow TikTokers with a jovial “Hello guys, here I am!”.
Filmed sitting behind a desk wearing a suit and tie, he went on to congratulate his new audience on their young age – something he admitted to being “a little jealous” of – and briefly laid out his political program, pledging to “create new opportunities” for under-30s.
The video attracted widespread mockery online, with jokes made about his permanent tan: “Silvio, what foundation do you wear?”
A second video soon followed, with Berlusconi telling a self-deprecating joke involving Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis.
Both videos ended with him moving his head from side to side while saying goodbye “on Tik Tok”, a gesture that seems destined to go viral.
Meanwhile, Renzi’s video was widely shared thanks to a moment of comedic brilliance in which he made fun of his own poor English language proficiency, and his famously convoluted political messages.
These were however by no means the first TikTok members belonging to the Italian political class. Earlier pioneers of ‘TikTok politics’ in Italy include Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d’Italia leader), Matteo Salvini (League leader) and Carlo Calenda (Azione leader).
So now that nearly all the leaders of the country’s major political parties have landed on the platform (Enrico Letta, you’re up next), you might legitimately wonder why the Italian political class – which has never stood out for its spirit of innovation nor for the young age of its members – has moved en masse to a platform largely populated by teenagers and young adults.
Though we’re in no position to question the authenticity of Italian leaders’ desires to get in step with the times, the move is likely to be due to the growing importance of young voters to their electoral success.
Many of the still-undecided voters in Italy are believed to be in the age bracket that makes up much of TikTok’s audience.
According to estimates from marketing research body Istituto Piepoli, only 48 percent of voters under the age of 35 will turn up at the polling station on September 25th – up by just a meagre three percent against the 2018 elections, when 45 percent of under-35s voted.
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It’s very hard, then, not to see the recent slew of TikTok debuts as a last-ditch attempt on the part of Italian leaders to connect with a large number of Italian citizens that have long been disinterested in politics.
There’s also the fact that the senate voting age has fallen. Up until last year, not all Italian adults could fully participate in the country’s elections as voters needed to be over the age of 25 to vote for senators.
This changed with a reform passed by parliament in July 2021, which means that an additional 3.8 million voters aged between 18 and 25 will be able to vote for their representatives in both the lower house and the senate in the upcoming election.
So, assuming that the TikTok videos are political leaders’ latest attempt to lure these undecided voters, is the move working?
A mere 12 hours after Berlusconi’s first-ever TikTok video was posted, it had already collected as many as 300,000 likes, 18,000 comments and 64,000 shares. Albeit in a far smaller measure, the other leaders also enjoyed favourable numbers.
While party leaders seem to be becoming more aware of the importance of younger voters, we’ll have to wait and see whether TikTok likes and shares will translate into votes and electoral success.
Find all The Local’s latest news on the Italian election race here.