Unwelcome at the Debate, RFK Jr.'s Star Shines on TikTok Live

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. won’t be on the presidential debate stage next week to answer questions, but he is fielding them on TikTok Live.

On Thursday night, a group of TikTok creators livestreamed a town hall with Kennedy titled “The Sickening of America.” For around an hour, Kennedy, a noted anti-vaccine conspiracist, answered questions from the creators and their followers on food and vaccine safety. Kennedy spoke at length about the unfounded claims that vaccines and gluten could cause or worsen autism.

It was the second town hall the long-shot independent candidate has done with TikTokker Tiffany Cianci and her community. Cianci has become known for organizing livestreams with third-party campaigns and other creators over the past year. Thursday’s event was the fourth event, and though it reached just a few thousand viewers, Cianci says they’ve received hundreds of thousands of views in the past.

“Our very first one had almost 100,000 [viewers], and we only had two days notice,” says Cianci, who has more than 150,000 followers. “That was our first interview with Robert F. Kennedy. And we didn’t really know what we were doing at that point. We were flying blind.”

While Cianci handles most of the logistics, other creators are invited on as panelists and to ask their own questions to the candidates. The group of creators hosting Thursday’s town hall included two wellness accounts, a conspiracy channel, and a pair of homesteading creators.

The TikTok town halls are not unlike the town halls many candidates participate in along the IRL campaign trail. But instead of answering questions in pizza shops and Veterans halls, they operate more like a giant Zoom call with technical difficulties and all. And unlike televised town halls with news networks, it’s the creators vetting questions and moderating the conversation, instead of journalists.

Few of the creators have professional backgrounds in politics, but they share a skepticism of politicans and institutions. These virtual events are meant to challenge candidates like Kennedy and provide “real people” an opportunity to hold a potential future president accountable ahead of the election.

“The point of this is to have a conversation with politicians on a mainstream stage where they come directly to us on our platforms, rather than moderated by mainstream media and mainstream questions that are filtered and screened before they talk about,” one of the creators known as @cancelthisclothingcompany said on TikTok before Kennedy spoke.

Cianci, who used to be a franchise owner for a toddler gym in Maryland called Little Gym, first met Kennedy after his campaign reached out to schedule a conversation with her on private equity last year. The Kennedy campaign recorded their discussion and posted clips of it across social media. When Cianci and her fellow creators decided to start holding these town halls, she reached back out to Kennedy’s team for the first one.

Since Kennedy first announced his campaign last year, he has gone on countless podcasts that have allowed him to speak on his controversial views for hours without fact-checking or disagreement, while platforming conspiracies. Despite the group’s plans to hold candidates’ feet to the fire, Kennedy’s concerning remarks went unchallenged. Instead the panelists agreed with much, if not all, of what he said.

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