How one anti-mask activist leveraged TikTok and Facebook to spur local school protests across the country
It took less than five months, two viral TikTok videos, three national events, and a Facebook network of 51 private groups
A conservative activist was able to leverage TikTok and Facebook in less than five months to spark nationwide school protests against masks and vaccines, prompting some school districts to respond.
After a TikTok video encouraging conservative protests around the country went viral in April, the account owner created Freedom515, an organization that now has a network of 51 private Facebook groups and over 30,000 members. In the months that followed, the user leveraged both platforms to organize numerous right-wing protests for people fed up with “the direction of things,” including anti-masks school walkouts on September 10, eventually forcing schools across the country to warn students and parents about them.
Despite promises to curb such content, Facebook and TikTok have struggled to combat COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation throughout the pandemic -- some of which has helped inspire in-person events and caused real-world harm. In particular, Facebook has struggled with its groups feature, which can be more difficult to moderate than other aspects of the social network. Similarly, TikTok’s unique “For You” page allows even videos from accounts with small followings to be seen by thousands of people, posing another challenge for effective moderation.
In our latest study, Media Matters shows how one anti-mask activist -- TikTok user @logicandliberty -- leveraged Facebook groups and TikTok’s “For You” page to create Freedom515, a nationwide group with dozens of state chapters. By our count, two TikTok videos from @logicandliberty have been seen roughly 1 million times combined, while the hashtag #Freedom515 on TikTok has 3.9 million views. Freedom515 has held three nationwide events, and the organization now has 51 private Facebook groups with over 30,000 members combined -- all accumulated within the last four months.
Freedom515’s most recent event, #WalkOutUSA on September 10, encouraged students to walk out of schools or parents to pick up their children from school -- all to protest mask and vaccine mandates. Opposition to children’s mask usage in schools had ramped up over the summer, with anti-mask activists sometimes organizing protests and opposition on Facebook. The September 10 event was amplified by other right-wing groups, and several school districts had to send letters to parents warning about the potential protests. Meanwhile, the group has been selling merchandise promoting the organization.
Here is a timeline of how @logicandliberty's one TikTok video posted in April helped establish Freedom515 and eventually forced schools across the country to address the threat of planned protests:
A TikTok video from @logicandliberty promoting a nationwide conservative rally goes viral
The TikTok account @logicandliberty posted a video on April 22. During the video, the user encouraged conservatives to organize a nationwide event on May 15 to protest “the direction of things.” The video earned nearly 500,000 views -- far more than the account’s previous videos, most of which appear to have only earned a few thousand views each.
The owner of the TikTok account @logicandliberty founds the group Freedom515
The day after posting the viral TikTok video, @logicandliberty posted another video saying she created a website. In the days that followed, she created the group Freedom515, as well as starting a private Facebook group and reserving the name to become an official Colorado nonprofit.
As the administrator of the organization’s Facebook group, @logicandliberty encouraged Facebook users to create state chapters and events. By April 26, 49 private Facebook groups were created for state chapters, and @logicandliberty is the administrator of 46 of those groups. The network now has 51 groups in total, including one for its “Media Team.” The organization’s website also specifically credits the TikTok video for launching the movement: “With one 60 second video on TikTok, a nationwide movement was launched.”
Chicks on the Right promotes Freedom515 during a live Facebook video
In a live video on Facebook, far-right clickbait page Chicks on the Right promoted Freedom515, praising the group’s mission, sharing @logicandliberty’s TikTok video, and showing the group’s website.
Freedom515’s first rally events are held across the country
According to Freedom515’s website, in the three weeks between the group’s creation and the first planned rallies, the group managed to coordinate “over 40 events nationwide with hundreds attending in over 20 states on May 15th, 2021.” States with events included Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Freedom515 holds rallies across the country on July 17
On May 21, @logicandliberty announced another day of nationwide rallies set for July 17 -- sparking plans for dozens of protests. In the two months between the May 15 and July 17 rallies, the TikTok account posted videos that promoted calls to action, Freedom515, and the July 17 rallies themselves. Simultaneously, the Facebook group network grew in membership and members also kept sharing other right-wing events and COVID-19 and election misinformation.
Another TikTok video from @logicandliberty goes viral on TikTok and Facebook, promoting a school walkout event, #WalkOutUSA
On August 26, @logicandliberty posted a video on TikTok telling parents and students to participate in a nationwide walkout from schools on September 10 to protest “mask and vaccine mandates.” The video earned roughly 500,000 views on TikTok and has dozens of “duets” (a feature in which a TikTok user records a video alongside another original video). It has also been shared dozens of times on Facebook. (The original video is now private.)
After right-wing groups amplify #WalkOutUSA, some local school districts are forced to address walkout plans
In the days after @logicandliberty posted the viral video about #WalkOutUSA, several right-wing groups amplified the event, with Unmask Our Kids CT and Mask Walkout USA creating an official Facebook event and Moms for Liberty creating a poster that was shared across Facebook.
In the hours before the event, several local school districts across the country, including in Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee, contacted parents assuring them that proper safety precautions would be in place and/or warning that walking out would affect a student’s attendance record.
Despite these warnings, there were still some walkouts across the country.