HomeTechnologyJohn Fetterman’s TikTok Whisperer - The New York Times

John Fetterman’s TikTok Whisperer – The New York Times

Newt Gingrich was not pleased. It was the evening of Dec. 6, minutes earlier than the U.S. Senate race in Georgia was referred to as for Raphael Warnock, and over on the Fox Information present “Hannity,” the finger-pointing for Herschel Walker’s imminent loss had begun. One main wrongdoer: TikTok.

TikTok? The Chinese language-owned social media platform, which hadn’t even existed initially of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, ought to be banned “for nationwide safety causes,” Mr. Gingrich mentioned. “However so long as it’s authorized,” he continued, “we now have to study to compete in a spot like that, as a result of that’s the place Era Z will get such a excessive p.c of their data.”

“We have now to learn to be aggressive inside it,” he added.

That’s one — and certain the one — level on which Mr. Gingrich and Annie Wu Henry would agree.

At 26, Ms. Henry — or @Annie_Wu_22, as she’s identified on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok — had been a comparatively low-level staffer since July on Senator-elect John Fetterman’s marketing campaign towards Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, when she took over Mr. Fetterman’s TikTok account.

“John already had this wonderful comms workforce working for him, and he himself had been a Twitter man for years,” Ms. Henry, mentioned on a video name from her condominium within the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. She was carrying sweats and a hoodie (“very on-brand right now,” she mentioned with snigger). “However we have been capable of transfer his voice and his message to different platforms,” she mentioned.

And people different platforms have been even “extra vital than it might need been usually,” Ms. Henry mentioned, as a result of Mr. Fetterman couldn’t be out on the path after his stroke in Could.

Ms. Henry shortly grew to become, in line with Mr. Fetterman’s director of communications, Joe Calvello, their “TikTok Queen.” The account accrued greater than 240,000 followers in three months, with three million likes and tens of hundreds of thousands of views. Ms. Henry’s was capable of make the enjoyable severe, and the intense enjoyable; and her motto — in life and on TikTok — is “embrace the cringe.” That’s, let the world see you as your messy, genuine self.

In fact it’s essential to have a candidate who’s keen to allow you to do that. “John isn’t an Instagram dude” — polished, fastidiously curated — “and it additionally wouldn’t be him to place him on TikTok dancing round,” she mentioned. “But when we are able to use a type of a bizarre, quirky sound and edit our messages to be a bit, properly, not messy, however not superrefined, it aligns with who he’s, who this marketing campaign is.”

A few of her hits: the video of Dr. Oz boasting about rising up “south of Philadelphia” adopted by a map displaying that on the opposite facet of the water is … New Jersey, overlaid with Smash Mouth’s “All Star” (“Any person as soon as advised me the world goes to roll me/I ain’t the sharpest instrument within the shed”).

One other considered one of her more cutting examples: a trippy TikTok duet of the heavy metallic puppets in Psychostick’s “Numbers (I Can Solely Rely to 4)” with Dr. Oz being unable to depend the variety of homes he owns.

Whereas she didn’t create Mr. Fetterman’s response to Dr. Oz’s notorious crudités video, wherein he complains in regards to the worth of “crudités” and conflates the Philly grocery shops Wegmans and Redner’s, she did have a eureka fund-raising second. For any donation above $5, donors would obtain a sticker that learn: “Wegners: Let Them Eat Crudité.” In a short time, the cash rolled in.

“Annie is like this generational pressure,” mentioned a younger political operative generally known as Memes. He runs a Twitter account referred to as @OrganizerMemes, an aggregator for intelligent political photos and texts, which additionally serves as a spot the place harried younger staffers can vent with out being outed to their bosses. (Memes is 25, works in politics and wish to maintain his job, therefore the anonymity.)

He considers Ms. Henry an in depth good friend, although they only met non-virtually for the primary time in Georgia, when Ms. Henry made a last-minute choice to fly to Georgia and assist get out the Asian vote for Senator Warnock through the runoff.

“Younger persons are typically not trusted on campaigns to do stuff,” Memes mentioned. “Annie is what occurs whenever you belief younger individuals to do what they’re good at.”

Ms. Henry grew up in a rural, deeply conservative city in York County, Pa., the one little one of Tom and Beth Henry, each particular schooling lecturers. She was adopted in China at 13 months.

When her exhausted and thrilled mother and father have been handed their new daughter, Mr. Henry mentioned, the nurse advised them, “This one could be very proud, she’s going to get what she needs in life.”

From a really early age, her mother and father mentioned, injustice would make her head explode. Her liberal however devoutly Methodist mother and father despaired once they couldn’t get their daughter to go to church with them as soon as she discovered what homosexual marriage was, and that their church wouldn’t enable it.

“I feel as a result of she was adopted in China and we had only a few different ethnic races in our city, she might need felt like an underdog herself,” her father mentioned. “Typically she was picked on. However when she noticed another person being picked on, she was livid.”

She bought her first smartphone in highschool and was tweeting in regards to the 2012 election earlier than she may vote. 4 years in the past, she led the Black Lives Matter protests in her largely white hometown.

And it was her father who first advised her about Mr. Fetterman. “When he was mayor of Braddock, I admired him for actually serving to individuals who have been down and out, for standing up for the frequent individual,” Mr. Henry mentioned. “When he introduced he was fascinated about operating for Senate, I advised Annie, ‘This can be a man it’s essential to take into consideration. That is somebody you possibly can assist.’”

She graduated from Lehigh College in 2018 — her honors thesis was in regards to the intersection of identification and social media — after which labored a collection of jobs: organizing for a few native Philadelphia politicians and doing social media for a bridal firm to pay the payments.

Initially of the pandemic, she wrote an essay that bought consideration about coping with her ethnicity for the primary time and feeling actually afraid as an Asian American in a rustic the place the president was calling Covid-19 “the China Flu.” Carrying a masks in public, she would remind herself to “look pleasant” and never sneeze or cough.

Final yr, she made her first viral tweet with a good friend: a Cease Asian Hate meme that bought hundreds of thousands of views, helped alongside by reposts from celebrities together with Chrissy Teigen and Ellen Pompeo.

Sophie Ota, Mr. Fetterman’s digital director, employed her on the finish of July. The subsequent few months, Ms. Henry mentioned, have been a blur. There have been no days off. There was no time to take a look at what pundits have been saying in regards to the predicted “purple wave,” and Ms. Henry and different employees members assiduously tuned out the information.

Ms. Henry was additionally one of many solely individuals on the marketing campaign who had a automotive, which meant she was driving co-workers from one a part of the state to the opposite, logging about 1,000 miles per week; the joke was that she had memorized the Pennsylvania turnpike, and knew all one of the best relaxation stops and low joints. (At one level the compliance officer, who checks on staffers’ bills, checked out what number of lattes she was shopping for and needed to know who she was shopping for espresso for on daily basis. They have been only for her.)

Whereas she and Mr. Fetterman have been typically somewhere else, she would flip up at occasions early so she may shoot and publish photographs of the crowds, the strains, the individuals. At most occasions there was a tracker: a man from the Oz workforce who monitored the goings-on.

“That’s actually frequent,” Ms. Henry mentioned, “however this man was there largely to see if he may document John messing up phrases so they may make enjoyable of John’s well being. He recorded John’s children too. There are methods to do that the place you’re not impolite and disrespectful.” Ms. Henry had a ultimate phrase of contempt: “And he was utilizing a camcorder.

Ms Henry has a reasonably excessive on-line profile aside from her Fetterman connection. Her private Instagram account (which has greater than 80,000 followers) alternates data on find out how to become involved preventing racism and defending abortion rights with selfies with rally buddies like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker or the actress Kerry Washington.

And Ms. Henry isn’t shy about supporting low-paying political work with a facet hustle or two. She has teamed up not solely with nonprofits that promote reproductive rights or shield democracy, but additionally with the occasional pores and skin cream or vibrator producer.

Political tchotchkes and popular culture references — “simply little references to individuals I look as much as — fill her condominium. Her doormat reads, “On this home, we perceive that primary human rights usually are not political points and that science is a matter of truth not opinion. Welcome.”

Taylor Swift merch is scattered round, and signed copies of books by Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem lie on the espresso desk. Subsequent to her door is a tote bag that reads: “Associates Don’t Let Associates Miss Elections.”

She is making an attempt to atone for her actual life after the blur of the previous few months — answering emails, paying a dashing ticket and, maybe most vital, snagging tickets to the upcoming Taylor Swift live performance. (She and Mr. Fetterman’s spouse, Giselle, have “textual content bonded” over Taylor Swift, she mentioned.) She is single and jobless, however like lots of her ‌friends, not panicked.

“I don’t understand how that is going to play out, and I don’t essentially need to know,” she mentioned. “I don’t suppose I’ll have this, like, one huge dream job ceaselessly.” She mentioned she doesn’t suppose she needs to work on the Hill, although a current Instagram publish options her wanting very Jackie O, mysteriously visiting the White Home.

And he or she is having fun with that first style of celeb. She mentioned that she had lately been strolling down the road and a person rolled down his window and yelled, “Are you Annie?” “I mentioned ‘Sure,’ however kinda shocked/confused,” she texted to me. Then he shouted, “Thanks for all you probably did,” and sped off.

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