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TikTok tracks the invasion of Ukraine

TikTok War // Illustration by Kate Walker

TikTok tracks the invasion of Ukraine

 

Future. TikTok is turning out to be the go-to platform for intimate, on-the-ground reporting of the Ukrainian war with Russia from Ukrainians. TikTok’s many trends — songs, dances, comedic bits — give the platform a shared language in which to make these videos go viral and spread empathy for the Ukrainian people and activism for their survival. While social media has gotten an (appropriate) bad rap as a tool for misinformation, it can also sometimes be the most reliable source of news.

Repeating history
Some are calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine the “first TikTok war.”

  • That’s because the social platform has been flooded with posts from Ukrainians of every stripe, including sheltering-in place residents, military personnel, and fleeing refugees.
  • The posts show a country under siege in real-time, transmitting footage all over the world to show the truth of what’s happening.
  • But in true TikTok fashion, many posts follow the TikTok format of comedic cuttingtrendy songs, and even popular dances, creating a dark humor effect that probably helps the videos go viral. It’s a universal language.

While not posting to TikTok directly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a former actor and comedian — has also leveraged his smartphone to shoot on-the-street selfie videos, providing updates on front lines and sending a message of inspiration to the country’s citizens… which, in turn, have gone viral on TikTok.

Citizen journalist
For the past century, the use of visual media has become an important part of documenting conflicts — from professional photojournalism during the Spanish Civil War to the first televised images of battle during the Vietnam War, and more recently to the outsized role that Facebook and Twitter played in the Syrian Civil War. With TikTok taking over the popular discourse, it only makes sense that the platform has become the primary hub for grassroots reporting.

But like on any social platform, misinformation can run rampant — even with the best of intentions. Grainy footage of a Russian jet-destroying plane dubbed “Ghost of Kyiv” turned out to be footage from a video game called Digital Combat Simulator.

TikTokers will need to be vigilant in making sure sources are authentic and also be on the lookout for “war page” aggregation profiles that are just trying to opportunistically leverage current events for followers.

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