In recent months, much has been made of young people’s apparent reluctance to get vaccinated. The issue clearly has significant implications for our own campus community. News of the student body's alarmingly low vaccination rate and often fierce debates concerning various Covid-related mandates have raged across campus since the weeks leading up to the beginning of the semester.
Naturally, this trend was a significant cause for concern amongst the country’s health and political leadership—their message was not reaching the ears of the youth. They needed a new way of framing critical information about the vaccine and its importance for individual and public safety, and they needed it fast.
Unfortunately, these—mostly middle-aged—leaders have reframed their messaging through superficial pandering.
By far the most famous of these instances was Olivia Rodrigo’s much discussed visit to the White House, where she met with President Biden, interviewed Dr. Fauci and advocated vaccination from the White House press secretary's podium.
Despite its fair share of overproduction and painfully contrived interactions between the popstar and public official, the various clips and photos disseminated after the meeting managed to maintain a basic level of tastefulness.
However, the same cannot be said for the more localized government entities that have employed similar tactics to get shots in the arms of their youth, including our very own Governor's Office.
I recently had the displeasure of stumbling across Gov. John Bel Edward’s TikTok account. It consists of a surrealistic bombardment of seconds-long video clips where Gov. Edwards, bless his heart, awkwardly plays out various TikTok trends with a pro-vaccine twist.
Although I certainly appreciate the Governor making a special effort to creatively engage with his younger constituents, to put it plainly, the clips are pure cringe. Baton Rouge has given the world enough internet stars; Gov. Edwards, please leave the TikToking to Addison Rae and Livvy Dunne.
These campaigns seem to rest on a strange assumption that young people are better reached through superficial performances rather than actual facts and arguments. Not only is this assumption nonsensical and even demeaning, but it is also, most importantly, ineffective.
Most of these videos belong in the same genre as educational rap songs…and we all know how much the kiddos love math rap.
As many have pointed out, one cause, though certainly not the only one, for Gen Z lagging behind their elders in vaccination rates is their general dissociation from the mainstream news cycle, the public's primary liaison for all things pandemic.
These campaigns are right in recognizing that most Zoomers spend more of their free time scrolling through social media feeds than following comprehensive news and health updates provided by the traditional news media.
To be clear, this doesn't mean that Zoomers are completely tuned out of the news—it's just usually consumed in the form of abbreviated, often fragmented, Twitter and Instagram posts rather than the front page of the New York Times.
So, if these public officials want to reach young people, social media is the right place to start. I will give them that.
The internet is obviously brimming with exciting new opportunities for engaging with the masses, especially the young. Why not focus on developing concise, comprehensive information reports that conform to the social media framework in a way that is both sufficiently educational and accessible to the Zoomer demographic? It is a format that many established media outlets have already begun to move toward and could be of great utility to public officials with a message for their constituents.
TikTok dances, however?
Well, you should have left that one in the drafts, Governor.
Evan Leonhard is a 20 year-old English and philosophy junior from New Orleans, Louisiana.