Meet the Cambridge TikTok councilor whose local politics videos are going viral
Can you get people interested in local government through TikTok? The answer appears to be yes, as a Cambridgeshire councilor proves.
Many county politicians already use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but Councilman Alex Bulat has also branched out to TikTok. Cllr Bulat uses the platform to share short videos, often with a lighthearted or humorous take, about life as a counsellor.
Evenings spent reading council documents that span hundreds of pages, from stories about the election campaign, to highlighting the region’s problems.
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His account has over 1,700 subscribers and some of his videos have been viewed thousands of times, with his most watched video currently having over 159,000 views.
Cllr Bulat, who was elected to Cambridgeshire County Council in 2021 and was the first Romanian county councilor to be elected in the UK, said she wanted to make politics more accessible and reach a variety of people.
She said: “Some of the videos are just meant to be informative – what do I think of a particular campaign or something to do with immigration – I like to convey the information to a different audience, I think it’s really important.
“Sometimes we do something in local politics and we put out a press release or put something on the council’s website, but it will reach a certain audience, it may not reach a lot of people who are on TikTok, and I think it’s very important to reach a variety of audiences.
“I also think it makes politics a bit more accessible. One of the reasons I ran for office last year was because I campaigned on diversity in politics before I thought about running.
“I think it’s really important for people to see local politicians who look like the communities they represent, to see young people talking about political issues, to see migrants like me and to see more women in politics. I think it’s really important to have these videos to show the diversity of local elected officials.
‘There is an advantage to having serious points explained in a more playful and light-hearted way’
Cllr Bulat said there was no strategy for what she was posting, but explained that she would do a quick video when she had time and an idea. She explained that for one of her videos, she was waiting for a bus to get from Fulbourn to Abbey in Cambridge, when she saw on a map that it would take 52 minutes to walk, or 51 minutes to take the bus .
She said: “It was a short 15 second video of what I was thinking, whether it was getting on the bus or walking. It was kind of like a silly video, but in a way that talks about a wider take on the state of public transport in Cambridge.
Cllr Bulat said she thinks there is benefit in making points in a lighter way, especially for TikTok’s younger audience. She said: “I think people have different opinions on TikTok, once when I posted something on Twitter someone said ‘oh she should be serious about the issues, you’re an adviser, you should just treat it very seriously”.
“At the same time, I think as people in local or national politics you have to talk to different audiences. I think when you talk about things like immigration or voting rights, you target a very different audience on TikTok than if you had a Facebook page, or if you were on a Facebook group, a Whatsapp group of residents or the various neighborhood applications.
“We also need to speak to younger audiences on TikTok and I think there’s often an upside to having very serious points, for example that the buses aren’t very good in Cambridge, or various points about what people are doing. advisers in the day-to-day role, in a more fun and light-hearted way to deal with.
“It brings politics closer to the public”
There was a lot of positive reaction to Cllr Bulat’s videos, on a voter registration video, a viewer said he didn’t know he had the right to vote.
Cllr Bulat explained that she has also received positive responses from people living in Cambridgeshire to her videos about a day in the life of a counsellor.
She said: ‘I’ve had a few comments from residents saying it’s good you have these videos as it brings the lives of local councilors a bit closer to the public. People can get this idea of local councilors in shiny rooms and they make decisions about you without really engaging.
“Hearing someone say ‘ok, I spoke with the residents’, or ‘I went door to door’, or I did this and that, it’s refreshing and it also brings the the political life of the public. It shows them that I am a normal person who does a job and that I do my job as an adviser.
Cllr Bulat also highlighted the responses she received to her video which she posted shortly after being elected County Councilor which is her most watched video.
She said: “I received a lot of messages, especially from the Romanian community and young people. There were younger Romanians who said they wanted to get involved in politics, I had a lot of nice interactions with that one.
“Of course there were some negative comments as well, but I got quite a number of people who got in touch and said they were interested in getting more involved in local politics, which I found it great.”
“I think it is important to engage and debate”
However, alongside these comments, there are also those who were less positive, especially when Cllr Bulat discussed issues such as immigration.
In a few cases, Cllr Bulat responded to comments with humor. She explained that her perspective had changed over time on how to handle those comments.
Cllr Bulat said: ‘Initially years ago when I had just moved to the UK over nine years ago now and I received negative feedback because I was not born in the UK, at first I was really upset.
“Your natural reaction is that you get very upset and can get very defensive, you try to explain yourself and say ‘well, actually, I live here’, you justify your existence.
“I think fortunately or unluckily, after so many years of involvement, particularly in campaigning for migrant rights, where I get a very mixed reaction, I think I’ve reached the stage of responding to certain comments. I think it takes a little self-confidence, it takes a little getting used to certain comments to be able to respond in this way.
“There are people who say you should never engage with trolls or with people who make these negative comments, but I also don’t believe that everyone who comments negatively on immigration is just there to troll or are just a bot.
“I think these are people who have really negative views on immigration. I think we need to challenge when we see racism or xenophobia happening around us, we need to challenge that and not just dismiss it and say “ok everyone who has a negative comment is a troll or a bot”, because that they are real people who have negative opinions.
“A lot of times it’s related to misinformation or a negative experience they’ve had, I think it’s important to engage and debate as well.
“That’s my view now, I think my view has changed over time, from being very defensive and very upset about it, to actually after getting a lot of negative feedback, you don’t react more really in the same way and you think well let’s approach the subject.