Biden is using TikTok to fight back against Russia’s reported use of influencers to spread propaganda

March 12, 2022, 11:19 PM UTC

Last month The Guardian proclaimed the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine “the first TikTok war,” highlighting Russian celebrities using the platform to speak out against Putin, and Ukrainians placing themselves in harm’s way to put the horrors of war on full display.

If there remained any doubt that the Ukrainian conflict is, indeed, the first TikTok war, it evaporated this week. Vice dropped an investigative piece on a campaign it unearthed “to pay Russian TikTok influencers to post videos pushing pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine.”

And the White House seemingly countered, holding a Zoom briefing on Ukraine for 30 TikTok stars, who received updates from National Security Council staffers and Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, The Washington Post reported.

On Friday Vice’s David Gilbert informed readers of a secret channel on a European-based social media app used by pro-Kremlin operatives to inform influencers willing to post propaganda for pay of “what to say, where to capture videos, what hashtags to use, and when exactly to post the video,” even going so far as to instruct influencers on what emojis and music to use.

Solicited campaigns were launched at the beginning of the invasion, and some of the influencers involved have more than a million followers, Gilbert reported.

Ukrainian photographer Christina Magonova was one of the first to spot the coordinated campaign, using an Instagram video posted to her channel to spotlight Russian influencers reciting the same script, Gilbert reported.

Among those elucidating TikTok stars at the White House’s press briefing on Thursday was Matt Miller, a special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, The Post reported.

Among attendees was Kahlil Greene, a self-proclaimed “Gen Z historian” with 6.6 million likes on TikTok.

His message to the White House: “Many people from marginalized communities in the U.S. have become dejected” over the war in Ukraine “because there is an imbalance of coverage and assistance given to the Ukraine/Russia crisis compared to other occupations, invasions, and attacks throughout the world, some of which have U.S. involvement.”

Why should these Americans emphatically support the United States’ backing of Ukraine when equally horrific humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world don’t receive the same level of attention and aid, he asked.

In a Friday TikTok post, Greene summarized his take on the White House’s response.

“The answer generally had this tone of, America’s doing a lot to help the world, but of course we wish we could do more,” Greene said. “However, there wasn’t a lot of acknowledgment of what America should stop doing in terms of their connections to occupations, invasions, and general bad-faith actions throughout the world.”

Another attendee: Ellie Zeiler, a teenage influencer with 10.5 million followers on TikTok and nearly 350 million likes.

Zeiler, who had not yet posted a video on the briefing as of Saturday evening, told The Washington Post she hoped to remain in touch with the White House about important issues.

“I would consider myself a White House correspondent for Gen Z,” she told The Post.

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