The ‘TikTok Intervention’ in the Russia-Ukraine War: How Credible?
Is it really credible to harness TikTok in the current Russia-Ukraine war in 2022?
In the history of warfare, we are used to having nations as actors. But no longer. In the days of the digital revolution can platforms be far behind? Certainly not, as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war was announced. TikTok, known for its short-duration video-sharing app is actively taking part in the war, in its own style. So much so that Volodymyr Zelensky, the beleaguered President of Ukraine, has appealed to the ‘people’, including TikTokers, to stop the devastating war which “takes away governance and guarantees nothing.” Not to be left behind, the US government arranged a Zoom meeting of the top thirty top TikTok producers who were briefed about the American standpoint so that they can communicate it to the American public. This seems to be a tacit admission that TikTokers have a greater capability of influencing public opinion than the US administration itself. Does this mean that TikTok is making a great transition from a light dancing app with lip synchronization to a major intervening force, a powerful social influencer, but is it so powerful as to facilitate the end of a war? The question begs some serious attention on the use of TikTok in the Russia-Ukraine war.
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It is true that there are instances of Ukrainians frequently sharing videos of the destruction of life and property in Ukraine, and some such videos have been ‘authenticated’ by BBC and other news organizations. Some of the Ukrainian TikTokers, from war-torn Ukraine and from outside, have shot into fame with thousands of likes and an incredible number of followers. But the point should not be overstressed. Those who refuse to take this development seriously argue that reputed fact-checking sites assert that the videos on Ukraine, disseminated by TikTok, contain a lot of “inaccurate and misleading information”. The instances of misinformation involve both Russia and Ukraine, and those favouring one are up against the other. Examples of one-up-manship include the pro-Ukrainian video in which Zelensky is fighting the war at the ground level and the pro-Russian one showing Putin ‘ardently’ speaking in favour of a peaceful solution to the crisis and how he wishes the war to come to an end. Such videos contain false or doctored images or they are of earlier times, being presented as the current ones. The suspicion grows all the more because TikTok is a prime app for lip sync and the world can watch the use of TikTok in the Russia-Ukraine war. In general, the belief is that the TikTok videos relating to the catastrophic war have mobilized public opinion more in Ukraine’s favour.
In any case, when it comes to the credibility issue, TikTok is not exactly in a comfortable situation. Strange as it may sound, TikTok has no presence in China despite the fact that it is partially owned by the Chinese government. If that be the case, one need not be too enthusiastic about the platform’s projected power of bringing an end to a war— a task which seasoned statesmen around the world and even the UN are finding hard to perform. Yet, in a world that is supposed to be driven by ‘post-truth’, it has become exceedingly hard to distinguish between the ‘fake’ and the ‘real’, between the ‘accurate’ and the ‘inaccurate’. Under such circumstances, platforms and apps like TikTok, especially by virtue of their ‘real time’ orientation will tend to be ‘useful’, especially during the current war between Russia and Ukraine.