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  • Meerelle Cruz

The Impacts of Ukraine War on Tiktok

Reporters have taken notice of TikTok's most visible expressions of pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine propaganda.

When you open the TikTok app, you'll see unabashed expressions of misinformation: video game clips, recycled images from previous conflicts involving other countries, de- or re-contextualized photos, and misleading audio tracks, all of which are passed off as genuine footage from Ukraine's "frontlines."

It's difficult to tell how many of these films are authentic, as Vox reporter Rebecca Jennings points out. Thousands of movies exist showing soldiers defending their country, as well as supposed evidence of the now-debunked 'Ghost of Kyiv' and a growing number of videos of civilians dancing in bunkers and bomb shelters.

Misinformation and disinformation researcher Abbie Richard lay forth a few more remarkable examples in a tweet thread:

TikTok, like memes, aren't only for the young, trend-conscious, or brand marketers; they're the lingua franca of a world where digital communication is almost entirely mediated. TikTok can be as severe as Facebook or Twitter, and it has for a long time, even if the severity is occasionally communicated in formats that would generally be classified as funny or "for kids."

It's rare to agree with conventional evaluations of what is and isn't disinformation or misinformation because they are frequently involved in their agendas. However, these watchdogs and journalists are correct in their assessment that something isn't quite right. This issue stretches far beyond spliced video game modifications on sock puppet TikTok accounts, where something has been up for a long time. That doesn't simply refer to the ludicrous claims of "Russian bots" prevalent in progressive American discourse.

Slavic, though mostly Russian, personalities began to explode upon TikTok a little over a year ago. These accounts were nothing out of the ordinary. Popular themes included riffs about Russian versus American parents or girlfriends, half-serious dating advice about why Russian women could demand more from relationships, quips about Babushka disapproving of your short skirts, and how if your man truly cared about you, he would buy you a Birkin — look at how we treat our Russian boyfriends.

Twin trends like 'Russian bimbocore,' a TikTok-native aesthetic that borrows from Russian fashion, and videos depicting how "good" life was under the USSR set to music by the Belarusian band Molchat Doma (often greeted by response videos like this one), and revivals of catchy, Russian complex bass songs slowly filtered into the mainstream Internet.

A short search of online youth subcultures reveals that feigning a hazy Slavic-ness is popular in some, albeit limited, online communities. There is no shortage of Cyrillic display names and pseudonyms among teen ladies like Olga or Margarita. One explanation for the popularity of these videos is that Eastern European culture, as diverse as it is, stands in stark contrast to everything in the West. Eastern Europe has rigid gender roles, traditional mores and thus norms to break, and raw honesty that is unheard of in countries like the UK and the US. Slavs are the ideal counterpoint to us, giving them fertile ground for trend-setting.

In many ways, the bizarre combination of Slav-curious TikTok and the onset of conflict had gradually conditioned people to sympathize with a seemingly random group of individuals in the months leading up to when they needed help the most.

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