Wars don’t happen on TikTok

Ukraine is winning the war online. What does that mean exactly? What does it mean for a child sheltering in a subway station, the boredom and discomfort of being away from home alternating with blinding terror when the shells begin to fall?

The official Ukrainian Twitter account was hailed for its witty tweets and memes and was contrasted with the clumsy propaganda machine employed by Russia. According to this narrative, Ukraine demonstrates that we share the same jokes and tendencies online and thus the war in Ukraine becomes relatable.

How, exactly, is this account different from the widely condemned comment by CBS News reporter Charlie D’Agata, who reported from Kyiv that “it’s a relatively civilized, relatively European city – I have to choose those words with care too – a city where you wouldn’t expect that”.

Surely the rightness or wrongness of a cause is not determined by the Internet savvy of the promoters?

If it’s wrong to clumsily imply that we should care about Ukrainians because they look like us. Why is it fair to say they are related because they know how to use the internet in a way that appeals to those of us sitting safely at home, thousands of miles away from the conflict?

Surely the rightness or wrongness of a cause is not determined by the Internet savvy of the promoters?

There is another narrative that the use of the internet as a medium is just a natural consequence of how previous generations deployed cartoons, followed by photographs, then television images to sway opinion. public.

Somehow, TikTok and its clones, like Instagram reels, don’t feel like a natural outgrowth of anything except the relentless modern trend of reducing everything to content and views.

Of course, Life magazine probably wanted to sell as much, if not more, than it wanted to sway public opinion when it published 10 pages containing 242 photographs of young men killed during the seven days of conflict in Vietnam.

The media has always wanted to make money. This still says something about the trivialization, or perhaps more accurately the TikTokification, of important issues that today so many people make a very good living using the Ukraine conflict to attract opinions.

TikTok has much more in common with advertising than with photojournalism. Sound is at the heart of TikTok.

It can be as simple as a snippet from an old commercial, a line from a song, or just a funny sound. If you’re lucky, the sound of your uploaded video will spawn thousands of other videos, either replicating the concept or replicating the idea with a fun twist, like asking a dog to perform a popular TikTok dance .

TikToks about Ukraine that use TikTok trending sounds garner millions (not hyperbole but literally means) more views than videos that don’t. Am I just showing my age that I find disturbing?

Part of TikTok’s appeal lies in the belief that because it’s dominated by everyday people, it’s somehow more trustworthy. A recent BBC article described 20-year-old Marta Vasyuta as “an ordinary 20-year-old Ukrainian woman” who went from hundreds of views on her TikToks to hundreds of thousands when she started uploading images from the Russian invasion.

One of his videos of bombs falling on Kiev, which comes with a viral soundtrack, a snippet from the song Little Dark Age by American rock band MGMT, has had 50.3 million views at the time of writing .

Vasyuta is not even in Ukraine. . . She finds the videos she posts on Telegram

Vasyuta explains that “some people don’t even trust professional journalists, even verified sources.”

She thinks being an ordinary young woman from Ukraine makes people more confident in her.

The interesting thing is that Vasyuta is not even in Ukraine. She was visiting friends in London and can no longer return home. She finds the videos she posts on Telegram. She says, and there’s no reason not to believe her, that she goes to great lengths to authenticate them.

But if a young woman who is not even in Ukraine is more trustworthy than verified sources, what does that mean?

The focus tends to be on the amount of misinformation on TikTok and other channels and it deserves all the attention it gets.

My feeling, however, is that the phenomenon of one to three minute videos (preferably accompanied by trending sounds) being the main channel through which young people receive information about the war or anything else important is deeply concerning. This is true even though all videos are authenticated and accurate.

It’s easy to dismiss concerns about the effect of cyberculture on our empathy and attention span as the latest manifestation of a generational divide. We old people don’t understand the online world that young people inhabit and that’s why we worry about it.

Sometimes it’s true. And sometimes a phenomenon provides a real cause for concern.

If something isn’t trending on TikTok, does it make noise? And what happens when the trend stops?

The Ukrainians deserve much more than our judgment that they are winning the war online. They deserve our continued attention, our welcoming of refugees and our commitment to make financial sacrifices to give the sanctions a real chance to compel Russia to a lasting peace.

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