As an English & History graduate and a communicator I’m fascinated with how the war in Ukraine is playing out on TikTok.
The historian in me is struck by the parallels between the black and white footage from 1941 and footage from 2022.
Refugees share the same look of exhaustion and uncertainty as they live tragedy the stakes for Ukraine feel just as high.
As a communicator, I’m struck at how the information war is being played out in real-time on the TikTok video platform.
When the First Gulf War broke out when I was 18 in 1990, the 24-rolling news of CNN was the eye witness to events. More than 30 years, this is being served up to your smartphone.
For those who think TikTok is all about dancing this war is a wake-up moment.
I had a look to see what kind of content the algorithm has serving up.
Categories of organic Ukraine war content on TikTok 13.3.22
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest category is ‘hot takes’. Namely, people claiming to be experts giving their takes on the day’s developments. This amounted to 48 per cent.
You are twice as likely to see ‘hot takes’ rather than journalism in the field. I’d argue, there’s even more room for misinformation and disinformation here than in news bulletins. It also shows there is a demand for the interpretation of what is playing out.
In second place, is news updates from journalists or news organisations at 17 per cent.
In third place comes first person footage from inside Ukraine most often from combatants or eye witnesses. Isobel Kashow in a chilling piece describes reports of Russian troops going door-to-door to search for mobile phones and laptops with footage. Command of the footage then is a salient part of how the war is being fought.
In fourth place, is first person footage from the UK (10 per cent) with accounts such as loading relief trucks. In fifth, is military footage (5 per cent) such as drone strikes with 6th, first person anti-war footage from within Russia (4 per cent) . Strikingly, all the content I saw from within Russia is anti-Putin.
I’ll leave it to others to judge how effective the Russian social media operation is as a whole. On TikTok it doesn’t seem present. But it does need pointing out that the average Russian relies on official news on TV which paints a different picture.
Of course, it’s important to say that wars between armies are won with guns and bombs and not just sympathetic videos.
First person footage from Ukraine
Ukrainian fighters commandeer an abandoned Russian tank and take it for a joy-ride. It could be kids on a Saturday night in a stolen Ford Sierra as they whoop with exciotement. It isn’t. It’s a tank and everyone is armed.
Often these are people with no training in journalism, diplomacy or fighting giving authoratively delivered viewpoints in how the war is unfolding. Their qualifications and the risk for disinformation and misinformation are also high.
Journalists are sending upright portrait shaped video to TikTok to tell the story of the war. Sometimes first person to camera and sometimes taking military footage they are new ways to tell the story.
They are not conventional bulletins but TikToks themselves using the language of the platform with text ion the screen.
First person footage from Russia
This footage is less prevalent but striking in its anti-Kremlin flavour that would lead to arrest and a lengthy sentence.
This clip shows a protestor being bundled away for asking the question ‘what two words could I put on my placard?’
First person footage from the UK
This can be aid packing, pledges to go and fight, reactions to the news or this account that gives insight into British Ukrainian life.
Video from drone strikes which may or may not be in the Ukraine can also be found on TikTok. Again, the risk of the video not quite being what it seems is high.