When Russia invaded Ukraine this week, some of TikTok’s youngest users witnessed the battle from the front lines.
Videos of people huddling and wailing in windowless bomb shelters, explosions exploding in urban settings, and missiles racing through Ukrainian cities took over the app, which was previously known for fashion, fitness, and dance videos.
Ukrainian social media influencers shared gloomy images of themselves buried in blankets in subterranean bunkers and army tanks rumbling through residential streets, mixed with shots of blooming flowers and happy companions at restaurants that reflected their more tranquil hometown memories.
They urged their followers to pray for Ukraine, donate to the Ukrainian military, and specifically asked Russian users to join anti-war movements.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dubbed a “special operation,” is the latest illustration of TikTok’s crucial role in disseminating news and current events to the app’s enormous Gen Z following. Its renowned algorithm is well-known for serving trending information even if users do not follow certain people, allowing subjects to swiftly go viral among its 1 billion monthly users.
In a speech intended at Russian nationals, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy referred to “TikTokers” as a group that could assist end the war. Some TikTokers continued where the politician had left off.
Alina Volik, a Ukrainian travel blogger with over 36,000 TikTok followers, took a break from posting highlights of her trips to Egypt, Spain, and Turkey to upload videos of life in the invasion, including emergency backpacks filled with first aid supplies and sealed windows to protect against glass shards in a blast. Volik also urged her worldwide followers to view her TikTok videos posted on Monday to “see the reality” about Ukraine.
In an email to Reuters, Volik stated that she sought to dispel misconceptions in Russian media that the country’s actions were merely a “military operation” rather than a war that was causing harm to Ukrainians.
On the TikTok sites of top Ukrainian influencers, there were montages of missile-damaged residential buildings, empty grocery store shelves, and long queues of cars stacked up at gas stations.
One such montage was shared on Sunday by “@zaluznik,” who has 2 million followers, with the remark “Russians open your eyes!”
Russian influencers have also used the app to express their feelings. In a video posted on Thursday, Niki Proshin, who has over 763,000 TikTok followers, stated that “real people” in Russia do not favour the war.
“None of my friends and none of the people I personally talk to supported today’s events,” he stated of the invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, ordered that the app stop presenting military-related content in recommended posts to minors, claiming that much of the content was anti-Russian in nature. TikTok did not reply quickly to a request for comment.
Online misinformation researchers cautioned that bogus material about the dispute was now being mixed in with legitimate ones on TikTok and other tech platforms such as Meta Platforms’ (FB) Facebook, Twitter (TWTR), and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOG) YouTube.
Footage from the military simulator computer game Arma 3, photographs of explosions from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, old footage of heavy firing, and animations of flying planes have been published on social networking sites as though they depicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.
“We continue to actively monitor the situation, with enhanced resources to respond to developing trends and delete violative content, including damaging disinformation and violence promotion,” a TikTok spokesman said, adding that the company collaborates with fact-checking organisations.
Some TikTok users in Ukraine have made it their mission to communicate information and raise awareness with Western viewers.
“I want people to understand that this is not a joke, that Ukrainians are in a serious situation,” Marta Vasyuta, 20, said in an interview on Monday.
Vasyuta’s TikTok video depicted what appeared to be a rocket in the sky, with the message “Kyiv 4:23 am.” By Monday, it had received over 131,000 comments, as fans flocked to the video to offer their prayers and express their shock.