The potency of TikTok as a platform for the spread of Euroscepticism is powerful, Source: Depositphotos

TikTok and Adoption of Eurosceptical Views among Romanian Youth

TikTok and Adoption of Eurosceptical Views among Romanian Youth

From recurring disinformation narratives to a deja-vu reality years after Brexit

Probably the most notable event regarding the potency of social media to trump up disinformation narratives and shape and inspire political action was Brexit. During the pre-referendum campaign in the UK, Eurosceptical and pro-Brexit messages clearly dominated social media platforms.

Most studies investigated Twitter (now X) and revealed serious imbalances in favour of Brexit supporters by filling the platform with Eurosceptical narratives. Now this event is seen as a precedent and, at the same time, as a reference point to the power of social media in fostering disinformation narratives, which tend to have an anti-European and anti-democratic bias.

Understandably, because of this history, there’s now a concern that manipulative tactics on social media can once again turn the volume on Eurosceptical messages and lead to increasing support for Eurosceptical and anti-EU political parties in the European Parliament and in the member states themselves.

This could be the case even for countries whose societies were considered rather favourable towards integration, such as Romania. Plus, since Brexit, there’s a

New powerful social media on our screens – TikTok

TikTok has gained immense influence in the last few years, being one of the fastest-growing social media platforms ever. What is probably the most interesting aspect of this platform is its ability to keep users in the application for prolonged periods of time due to its algorithm and video format.

The algorithm, especially its “For you” section, is very useful for spreading viral content with a speed never accomplished before. This allows new trends to circulate very fast across the globe. This could also help Eurosceptical messages and ideas become viral if packaged in the right and appealing format.

As we are facing some serious changes globally social media platforms are expected to become even more powerful. US political analyst Ian Bremmer has stated, for example, that we might be transitioning to a new global order named “techno-polarity” in which the social media companies are dominant actors.

Research has illustrated that higher usage of social media could be linked to lower trust in the EU which could further lead to a favourable environment for the formation of Eurosceptical views. Moreover, some scholars discovered that by simply framing EU-related news in a detrimental form to the bloc, public support for it visibly dropped.

Adding to this, social media dramatically boosted the exposure capabilities of such narratives, especially through what is known as echo chambers or by using an algorithm that favours negative messages. When discussing the spreading of different kinds of messages in social media, it has to be acknowledged that these platforms seem to dramatically favour the spread of false information instead of true, fact-based pieces of information, with the former being spread up to six times faster than the latter.

Romania and its vulnerabilities

Romania’s internet penetration rate and social media usage are comparable with the European average. Nevertheless, in terms of resilience against disinformation, Romania scores poorly, with media literacy levels for the population being ranked 29th out of 38 countries in a relevant study.

The most commonly encountered harmful narratives in that country are indeed anti-Western (Eurosceptical) in nature and many of these campaigns can be connected to the Russian Federation. The fact that Russia successfully promotes such narratives in a country where only a few inhabitants regularly follow Russian TV channels or radio might suggest that all this interference comes via the Internet, especially through social media.

There are several accounts promoting the hashtag #Roexit on TikTok, with some of them having more than 100k followers and growing. This is rather surprising taking into account that the idea of a Romanian exit from the EU does not appear to be of high interest in the official polls. A great deal of this type of content is being spread by true, devoted supporters but, at the same time, by people sharing and reacting to it for entertainment. Even if not all the people sharing the content are committed supporters, the engagement generated helps it grow and catch a larger audience.  

In addition to that, TikTok is vastly used by the youth, and it is very representative of this demographic’s tastes and ways of consuming media content. Strongly connected to this is the fact that the most significant part of the electorate of a far-right, extremist party with anti-European views in Romania was composed of people between 18 and 30 years old.

What makes TikTok tick?

When discussing the reasons behind the usage of TikTok, probably the most relevant theoretical framework is the “uses and gratification theory” with a certain focus on entertainment. This communication theory underscores the ways in which people seek out and utilize media to satisfy various psychological needs and desires. Due to this aspect, users seeking entertainment could be subject to Eurosceptical messages disguised as “hahaganda” – that is pushing disinformation by making it funny and entertaining and thus more attractive for viewers.

Even if a great deal of the research done on the platform supported the usage for entertainment as dominant, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 emphasized a significant increase (from 10% in 2022 to 16% in 2023) in Romanian TikTok users who had said that they were regularly getting their news through that platform. Moreover, this value of 16% placed Romania at 10% above the European average. This shows a trend where TikTok is becoming a hybrid media satisfying both entertainment needs with informational needs – and the two could often overlap.

The various changes at the global level towards an international arena dominated by social media companies have a tremendous impact on our societies. Furthermore, the times of crisis impact our perceptions and make us more prone to be manipulated by ill-intentioned actors.

In the case of Romania, the fact that strong detractors of the European Union get attention even if the mainstream media is not covering them could indicate that it is, indeed, the online space, where they are successfully promoting their narratives.

Taking into account the significant increment in the usage of TikTok, as a news source in Romania and the ascending trend of anti-European narratives on the platform could help us assume that the platform is one of the essential sources for spreading such narratives. This affirmation is supported also by the fact that young people played a significant role in driving growth for both TikTok and anti-European parties in elections.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU.



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