Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Val Demings is promoting a popular "children's game with a sex problem" to court voters in her race against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio.
Demings in March used Chinese app TikTok to share the first installment of her "Gamers for Demings" series, which used the children's game Roblox to depict a virtual version of the Democrat running through Florida. The post came just weeks after the BBC highlighted the game's "sex problem." Roblox—which two-thirds of U.S. children between the ages of 9 and 12 reportedly have played as of 2020—came under fire for hosting user-generated sex games known as "condos," where gamers' avatars can have virtual sex. In one instance, the BBC reported, a "naked man, wearing just a dog collar" and a leash, was "led across the floor by a woman in a bondage outfit" as a man "wearing a Nazi uniform" looked on.
Demings's decision to use Roblox and TikTok to promote her campaign shows how Democrats are widening their political strategy to use unorthodox means of communication. Demings is far from the only Democrat on TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that has sparked bipartisan security concerns. Fellow Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan (Ohio) has posted videos of himself lip-syncing on the platform, and Sens. Jon Ossoff (D., Ga.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) are also active users. In February, President Joe Biden moved to address TikTok's security risks—but he's also used influencers on the app to sway public opinion, even inviting some to film in the White House.
After Demings's first Roblox-themed TikTok post, a popular Roblox news account on Twitter praised the Democrat, asking if a "Robloxian" could "be Florida's next senator." Demings's communications director responded to say the campaign was "proud to launch Gamers for Demings," and the Democrat went on to share two more Roblox posts in the following months. One, which Demings posted in April, shows her blasting off into space on a virtual rocket. Another, shared on June 11, depicts a virtual Demings dancing with LGBTQ flags under a "Happy Pride Month" banner. That post includes the hashtags "PrideMonth," "roblox," "LGBTQ," "foryourpride," "fyp," and "valdemings."
It's unclear how Demings expects to use a game most popular with preteens to attract voters. Her campaign did not return a request for comment.
In addition to concerns over Roblox's sex problem, the game has faced criticism for exploiting child labor. Roblox allows its users to create, share, and play their own games within the Roblox platform. As a result, the Guardian reported in January, Roblox has made millions off of the work of children with no formal contracts in place.
Demings is widely favored to face Rubio in November but will first have to emerge from an August primary race. Neither candidate has a strong financial advantage—both Demings and Rubio have raised roughly $30 million and hold roughly $13 million on hand as of March 31. Rubio is polling at 49 percent, 9 points better than Demings's 40 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.