When you think of TikTok, you think of overdone dances, kind of cringey overdubs to anime scenes, and lots, and I mean lots, of chaotic neutral energy. And to be fair that’s what the algorithm pushes, or it does at least in my case. So when I actually got to sit down with Stephen Raitz, local TikToker and U of A law student, I was shocked at how down-to-earth he was.
With over 8,700 followers, I had the pleasure to sit down with him and talk to him about his TikTok and how it intersects with his experience as a university student.
“I’ve always been engaged on social media,” Raitz said about how he got involved on the social media app. “So, once I figured out how to tell stuff on TikTok… I felt like I had a better handle of it and could take things further. I could really tell a story and have it kind of go [to] larger [audiences].”
Raitz isn’t kidding when it comes to this idea of going larger. Raitz has over 873,700 likes, with videos easily surpassing thousands of views. And what does he do with this platform and this following? Well it’s quite simple — he uses it to express his proclivity to local politics.
“I’m very passionate about municipal politics and about community building, so that was definitely something I was bringing into it.”
Raitz further comments on this by talking about his use of the app to implore people to extend the masking bylaw in Edmonton in November of 2020, which actually succeeded. “That November video was just kind of a call to action to tell people to sign up. And [while] that’s is not one of my most liked videos, that was the first ones where I realized ‘Oh ****, this has an impact.’”
Raitz recently has turned his attention to the student body here at the U of A campus, using the same funny and random video format used to talk about Edmonton politics. It seems to be working because these are some of his most popular forms of content. Raitz took the time to explain why he started making videos about the campus.
“I did an undergrad at the U of A from 2014 to 2019, and I was very engaged on campus… I’ve been active in social media in a kind of community way, like within the campus community… [TikTok was] a tool to reach out to folks,” Raitz said. “I’m kind of lucky to be in a spot where [I] have the background to have a sense of what’s going on from the back or have a background in doing this kind of work.”
No doubt his TikTok has fostered a community around campus life, encapsulating the feelings of being a student, and the overall exhaustion that comes with it at times. A great example of this could be the many impressions Raitz does of university president Bill Flanagan, always in a sarcastic this-is-what-I-really-feel sort of tone, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
After this extremely surreal experience gaining traction on TikTok, Raitz explains how TikTok helped him rekindle his sense of community on campus.
“I’ve always loved being involved because your community or neighbourhood is connected when you take the time to be involved. It’s a privilege to be involved and I’ve utilized that to the max,” Raitz said. “I was kind of thinking that coming back I was going to be a little bit more on the outside… I just wasn’t thinking [university] would be the same, but I think that’s the interesting thing about TikTok.”
Raitz further commented on TikTok as a tool for returning to campus because of the connection he has with students who’ve seen his content.
“I don’t know a lot of the people who might come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, you’re that guy!’ But it makes you realize how big campus is because just wonderful random people will come up to me… and yeah, I think that’s really beautiful,” Raitz said. “You know [TikTok is] kind of a short cut and I feel very much at home again.”
Raitz ended the interview by reflecting on his TikTok and its ability to help reflect his passion for municipal politics and his connection to the university by stating.
“People really give a **** about what’s going on too. I think that’s why this specific kind of content has taken off,” Raitz said. “I guess I just have been lucky to have been afforded the opportunities to develop those tools and to have the time to just whip something up and tell those stories and to have the time to be informed… and if it helps people catch up a little bit on current events — amazing! Hopefully it gets them fired up to say something, to do something, to show up.”