Is TikTok Making Americans Hate the Economy?
The Internet is exacerbating the economic pessimism dragging down Biden's poll numbers.
Last week, Taylor Lorenz and Jeff Stein wrote a story for the Washington Post about how viral posts on TikTok might be contributing to economic pessimism:
On Dec. 20, 2022, Topher Olive went to a McDonald’s in the town of Post Falls, Idaho, and ordered a limited edition “smoky” double quarter pounder BLT with fries and a Sprite. The meal cost $16.10, and he posted the receipt on TikTok.
Even though he had ordered a novelty item, Olive’s video about a $16 McDonald’s order went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views. After a McDonald’s revenue report recently, the same post went viral again earlier this month, with at least a half-dozen news outlets — including the Washington Examiner, the New York Post and Newsmax — picking up the story of Olive’s pricey patty. One YouTube video from this month with 2 million views inaccurately describes it as “a Big Mac meal” that cost $16. Posts on Reddit, the conservative site Twitchy and elsewhere tied the cost to President Biden’s economic management: Inflation, the theory went, had gotten so out of control that the price of a fast-food burger was approaching $20.
The story reignited the conversation about the central question of the 2024 election. How could a President whose policies helped create 14 million jobs and 5% economic growth be down 22 points to Donald Trump on economic issues? There is a yawning chasm between the macroeconomic numbers and the historically high levels of economic discontent present in the polls.
For over two years, this question has plagued pundits and political strategists. The TikTok story supported a theory popular among some ardent online defenders of President Biden: the media — and social media in particular — are to blame for people’s sour opinions about an economy with low unemployment, high growth, and shrinking inflation.
Even President Biden made this argument in a back-and-forth with reporters last month:
You all are not the happiest people in the world - what you report. And I mean it sincerely. You get more legs when you're reporting something that's negative. I don't mean you're picking me. It's just the nature of things.
As is typical of these online debates, the conversation is overly binary. Either the media is entirely responsible or Democrats are making excuses for a bad economy. On one level, who cares about the cause of the economic gloom? No matter what is to blame, Democrats need a message that narrows the gap on the most important issue in polling. But developing a solution depends on understanding the cause of the problem.
So, is TikTok and the media to blame for the economic doom and gloom under President Biden?