The teenage owners of a TikTok account called POC Republicans found themselves being criticized by people on both the right and the left this week after screenshots of their videos went viral on Twitter — forcing the teens to explain to their confused critics that their content is all just satire.
The account creator, 17-year-old New York student Sarah Ma, told BuzzFeed News that the people featured on the account are prominent on political TikTok.
“We even have a few members from the Communist Hype House,” she said, essentially a collective of people who on their own make content for the same type of accounts. “And one of the original members of what used to be the Liberal Hype House on TikTok.”
Ma and some of her collaborators believe there’s a genuine divide between people who are familiar with the type of humor on TikTok — enabled in part by the way the app functions — and on the older platforms many peole are already used to.
The humor on TikTok tends to be quite dark compared to the humor on other apps — often they are another level of satirical than a story in, say, The Onion. The reason, they said, is creators are able to curate a variety of dark content in the app’s one minute video limit.
Ma said she got the idea to create the account after taking part in a satirical debate in the past and from several of her friends who run satirical pages on the app.
POC Republicans posts content that anyone versed in the internet would see as a troll or joke. Some of ther account’s videos cite Reddit as a peer-reviewed source. Other times the creators will use a screenshot of their iPhone Notes app and call that reliable information.
In another video, they claimed “life begins at erection.”
“Yesterday, I posted a video stating that abortion is murder,” Ma said, “because one if my lifelong best friends was aborted at 15 weeks.”
Despite this, Ma said there have always been quite a few people who took their videos to be 100% serious.
Then, in early July, a screengrab of a TikTok featuring 16-year-old Jovi Bosch, white a high school student from New Jersey, went massively viral on Twitter.
Ma said the POC Republicans account picked up 16,000 followers in a matter of days.
“Some of our videos quickly made it to Twitter where people were also taking it seriously,” Bosch told BuzzFeed News, “and that brought some concern to the whole group particularly me and Sarah because our videos had gained the most traction.”
Some people took it all pretty seriously, not seeming to get that it was a humor account.
This comment appeared in TikTok under the same video.
“We were shocked by the amount of people who took a screenshot or video posted it to twitter or instagram without looking at any of the other posts,” Bosch said.
One concern, Bosch said, is what she called a “constant thread of toxic behavior and ‘cancel culture’ coming from the left and this causes us to be much more divided than the right.”
“The one thing even more alarming then that was the way real republicans responded,” she added.
They noticed that they were being fetishized for being people of color and that sometimes it didn’t seem to matter to some people on the right how ridiculous their claims were — just that they had support from people of color.
“We both expressed some concern for the immediate intellectual fetishization of the POC in the group,” said Bosch.
Still, she said, they were comforted by the amount of support from people who understood that the account was satirical.
Ma said that in hinsight, she can understand the videos of them that went viral of them weren’t the most overtly satirical videos.
“So we have since privated all videos we’ve made that haven’t been blatant satire,” said Ma.
Ma said said at first, when they saw the screenshots and videos going viral, they found it funny that people saw it all as un-ironic.
But then, as it got more viral, people started talking about cyberbullying them.
“We got a comment on POCRepublicans warning us to be careful because Twitter will be doxxing us soon,” Ma said.
“It was a tough and confusing situation to handle,” she added, “but I tried to mitigate as much as I possibly could on my social media platforms.”