How does the Ukraine war look to western viewers? Less like detonations and more like thick techno beats. “ДОБРОГО ВЕЧОРА (Where are you from?)” is the name of one of the tracks currently used to set the Ukraine war to music on the Internet. The video app TikTok has become the primary channel for spreading images from war zones. Even in hard-to-reach places where journalists can hardly access, smartphone come handy. Social media is now the place where dance moves, holiday shots, cooking recipes, soldiers, weapons, and death coexist.
The popular track comes from the Ukrainian DJ and producer Probass ∆ Hardi. “Good evening, we’re from Ukraine,” says a voice at minute 0:45. It is the voice of Vitaliy Kim, the governor of Mykolayiv. The city, like others, is under heavy Russian fire. Kim is a respected politician in Ukraine, a confidante of President Volodymyr Zelensky, known for his fighting spirit.
His voice in the track is where (Ukrainian?) TikTok users are currently cutting a lot of war videos. You see marching, posing, fighting soldiers (often with the Ukrainian armband), and you see a lot of destroyed tanks and other military equipment. Of course, there are also the tractors that tow away Russian tanks. Even if you don’t speak Ukrainian, you’ll understand: the videos always cheer for defeated Russian soldiers and battle tanks.
The treacherous thing about TikTok is that the more and longer you watch these war videos, the more new and related videos mix into the endless video stream. That’s what the algorithm wants, which always gives us what we like and more and more of it. That’s why many users are already talking about a “rabbit hole” that you can fall into on TikTok. A hole in which the world becomes even more tailor-made than in many other social media. Short videos can have enormous reach, are not dependent on the number of friends and followers, but are pushed onto the displays by the algorithm. The Ukraine war is so present on TikTok that some users call it “The first TikTok War”.
Їм Не сподобалося мое висловлювання 😉
A distorted picture of reality
And suddenly on TikTok, it looks like Ukraine is winning the war. Anyone who does not deal with other news sources will not find out that Mariupol or Kharkiv are destroyed, that millions of people flee to the West, what poverty and misery prevail in large parts of the invaded country. You get a completely distorted picture of reality that has little to do with what is happening in Ukraine.
You have to be aware: not only on the Russian side is propaganda reigning, but also on the Ukrainian side. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is reluctant to provide information about its own losses, while experts say the losses on the Russian side are overstated. Ukrainian media speak of 15,000 casualties on the Russian side, the Pentagon closer to 7,000. Clearly, the Ukrainian government, which has chosen the path of resistance, must do everything possible to boost the morale of the population.
Chinese-owned app TikTok (Bytedance) is the only major international social media platform not yet blocked in Russia. Censoring is tough in Russia. As Netzpolitik.org reports, all non-Russian content will be blocked for Russian users. It can be assumed that Russian users will not see Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed Russian tanks, but rather the pro-Putin videos with the hashtag #Z.
Fake news and propaganda
It is often not clear where the videos come from, by whom they were shot, under what conditions, and whether they even come from the current war. Only specialists like those from Bellingcat often succeed in identifying authentic content from fake ones. Unlike some US social media platforms, TikTok does not use any fact-checkers that would make fake content recognizable to users would mark. Sometimes you only see the warning about “sensitive content”.
A NewsGuard test shows that TikTok’s algorithm allows users to see fake war videos. The best example are the clips of “Ghost of Kyiv” – an alleged Ukrainian fighter plane taking down rows of Russian bombers from the sky. However, many of the videos do not come from reality – but from a computer game.