This 26-year-old former truck driver is running for Congress, and he's betting big that TikTok will help get him elected
Joshua Collins for Congress
- Joshua Collins is a 26-year-old former truck driver running for Congress in Washington State.
- He's also one of only a few politicians using TikTok, the short-form video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance.
- Collins is gambling on the social media like TikTok and Twitter in place of traditional advertising.
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Joshua Collins was working as a delivery driver dropping supplies off at a Subway when he made up his mind to run for office. He was listening to a podcast featuring Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and he remembers Sanders saying that young, working class people capable of running had a responsibility to do just that.
Now, he's running an unconventional campaign, banking on the free and low-cost publicity he can get on TikTok in place of spending any money on traditional ads. Politico predicts $1 billion in spending in races for the House of Representatives in 2020, but Collins says the money he's raising is going towards paying his staff, and not ads.
He started building up his social media at that point, thinking he'd run for local office. Then, he saw the surprising momentum of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her congressional race against a 10-term incumbent, and he told himself that if she won her race, he'd run for Congress, too.
He got involved politically, and said he had been in his representative's office many times. "The Green New Deal was probably the number one thing" that he talked to his rep about, he said to the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA).
Facing an incumbent would make for an especially tough race, so when the congressman, Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat, announced he would retire last month, Collins' campaign viewed it as a victory. At the time, he was Heck's only primary challenger. Collins said that he believed portions of Heck's retirement announcement were about Collins challenging his seat. Heck wrote "Success seems to be measured by how many Twitter followers one has which are largely gained by saying increasingly outrageous things, the more personal the better. There are simply too many hyperbolic adjectives and too few nouns. Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in."
TikTok hasn't really caught on with politicians for a few reasons. It only recently joined the likes of Twitter and Instagram as major social media apps, launching in the US in 2018. It evolved from video-sharing app Musical.ly, where users lip-synced along to 15-second audio tracks. China's ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok. ByteDance is considered the most valuable private company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion. The app has also been plagued by security concerns over reports of censorship at the request of the Chinese government. Several senators have asked for investigations into TikTok as a counterintelligence risk, and the Army and Navy have both barred TikTok from government phones.
Now, Collins is preparing for his August primary against the three other Democratic candidates who have filed to run. Washington's 10th district was only created in 2011, and has never been held by anyone but Heck. Ballotpedia rated the district as "safely Democratic," so the primary will likely be the effective election. Other Democrats who've announced their candidacies are Kristine Reeves, who resigned from the state legislature to run, and former Tacoma Mayor and CEO of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Marilyn Strickland. On January 15, Phil Gardner, who worked on Heck's campaign and in his office, announced he was running. In articles announcing each of these candidacies, Collins is mentioned mostly as an afterthought, noting that he is "a socialist running as a Democrat." Gardner seems to have the most in common with Collins, as he is also young at 28 years old, and he told the Seattle Times that he would prioritize health care and "getting serious about the climate emergency," both key issues for Collins as well.