The teenage owners of a TikTok account called POCRepublicans 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 them to explain that their content is satirical.
The account's creator, Sarah Ma, a 17-year-old student in New York, told BuzzFeed News that the people featured on the account are prominent members of political TikTok.
"We even have a few members from the Communist Hype House," she said, referencing a similar collective of content creators. "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 how the app functions — and that of other platforms, which many people are already used to.
The humor on TikTok tends to be quite dark compared to that of other apps, and the satire is unique from what you might find 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 make the account after taking part in a satirical debate and from several of her friends who run similar accounts on the app.
POCRepublicans posts content that anyone versed in the internet would see as a clear troll or joke. Some of their videos cite Reddit as a peer-reviewed source. Other times, the creators will use a screenshot of their Notes app and call it reliable information.
In another video, they said, "Life begins at erection."
"Yesterday, I posted a video stating that abortion is murder," Ma said, "because one of my lifelong best friends was aborted at 15 weeks."
Despite this, she said, quite a few people have taken their videos to be 100% serious.
Then, in early July, a screengrab of a TikTok featuring 16-year-old Jovi Bosch, a white high school student from New Jersey, went massively viral on Twitter.
Ma said the POCRepublicans 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 satire.
This comment appeared on TikTok under the same video:
"We were shocked by the amount of people who took a screenshot or [shared the video] to Twitter or Instagram without looking at any of the other posts," Bosch said.
One concern 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."
She added, "The one thing even more alarming than that was the way real Republicans responded."
They noticed they were being fetishized for being people of color and that 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 have received some support from people who understood that the account was satirical.
In hindsight, Ma said, she understands their videos that went viral weren't the most overtly satirical ones.
"So we have since [made private] all videos we've made that haven't been blatant satire," said Ma.
Ma said that at first, when they saw the screenshots and videos going viral, they found it funny that people saw it all as sincere, unironic content.
But then, as the videos continued going viral, people started talking about cyberbullying the account's creators.
"We got a comment on POCRepublicans warning us to be careful because Twitter will be doxing 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."