Washington turns to TikTok influencers to promote its narrative on Ukraine
Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, social media has been bombarded with one-sided hero worship, amplified and drawn into users’ timelines through the magic of the infamously mysterious algorithms that govern these platforms, whose functioning regulators worldwide have had trouble grasping.
There’s the fictitious tale of the Ukrainian Snake Island border guards in the Black Sea, which was widely amplified by traditional Western media. As the story went, upon the approach of a Russian warship, the guards told the ship over radio communication to “go f*** itself”, after which they were reportedly liquidated. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even praised their bravery. The good news is that he’ll now be able to award them their “posthumous” medals for bravery in person, since they’re apparently still around.
Then came the tale of the “Ghost of Kyiv”, a mysterious Ukrainian pilot credited across social platforms for single-handedly downing Russian jets left and right. That tale, too, turned out to be created from a montage of fake news, including video game footage. However, this literal propaganda somehow managed to escape removal by the social media platforms, which constantly claim to combat fake news.
These outright fabrications platformed online saturate the entire world before any sensible rebuttal of them can make a dent. It seems there is a concerted effort – facilitated by these online giants – to portray the conflict as a Superbowl-style showdown between “Team Ukraine/NATO” and “team Russia”, which requires everyone to pick the “right” side under severe peer pressure to conform to whatever is overwhelmingly promoted by these platforms. Before now, that mostly meant style, fashion, makeup and dance trends. After all, the top 10 influencers on TikTok are performers squarely serving (and profiting from) beauty and fashion industry advertisers.
But leave it to Washington to ask, “What if we could get people known for nice handbags and trendy dances on TikTok to trash talk Vladimir Putin?” And that’s exactly what they did – by briefing 30 of the most popular TikTok influencers about the war in Ukraine. Ellie Zeiler, a 18-year-old fashion influencer from California who attended the meeting last week, hosted by White House officials via Zoom video, including spokesperson Jen Psaki and National Security Council staffers, led the trendsetter to suddenly take a stab at explaining to her 10.5 million followers why gas prices in are now high.
And no, it isn’t because Joe Biden failed to secure North American energy independence via the Keystone XL pipeline with Canada, which he canceled to the great joy of Democratic Party donors invested in Saudi oil and the current railways that profit from transporting the fuel above ground, or the environmental NGOs that they fund in both the US and Canada. Nor is it due, at least in part, to the endless harassment and sanctioning of European companies that were on the verge of securing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to transport Russian gas into Europe via Germany – the literal fuel for European production of ethanol in car fuel.
No, according to the fashion influencer co-opted by the White House to serve on the frontline of the propaganda war against Russia, high gas prices are high because, “Russia is one of the top three producers of oil and it is actually their No. 1 revenue source. Now, with Putin starting this horrific fight between Ukraine and Russia, nobody wants to work with him and do international trade.”
The White House told the TikTok influencers who were invited on the zoom call to blame the high gas prices on Putin. pic.twitter.com/qBCEA6r2C7— Libs of Tik Tok (@libsoftiktok) March 14, 2022
When one is so busy selecting filters and music for videos, it must be easy to miss the small details, for example, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent remarks contradicting the notion that no one wants Russia’s gas. “Europe has deliberately exempted energy supplies from Russia from sanctions,” Scholz said. “At the moment, Europe’s supply of energy for heat generation, mobility, power supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way. It is therefore of essential importance for the provision of public services and the daily lives of our citizens.”
Even EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has admitted that reducing dependence on Russian energy is complicated in practice. “The reality is that there’s quite a number of our member states who would get into real trouble if, overnight, all the energy would no longer be provided from Russia,” Timmermans said.
According to others present at the White House meeting, officials wanted influencers to emphasize to their audience that “Russian troops are not happy with their own invasion,” and to underline, according to journalist and TikToker, Marcus DiPaola, that “Russia is not going to win in Ukraine. Things have gone so badly for them that it's just not possible anymore.”
A group of influencers called, “Gen-Z for Change,” noted on Twitter that they “joined the @WhiteHouse and @WHNSC for a briefing on the U.S.' strategic goals in Ukraine so we're better able to debunk misinformation.”
Just think how all of the other previous conflicts sparked by US meddling overseas would have turned out if the White House was only able to have its voice heard and its narrative protected. Imagine how things could have been different for Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, Serbs, for example, if the US-backed wars that they survived had only been able to benefit from more American control over the narrative and fewer voices of dissent — sorry, “misinformation”.
“We truly appreciate the fact that this administration is putting an effort into young people and taking the time to uplift young voices!” the group wrote.
It’s no wonder, with the 2nd Brigade of TikTokers telling young people that things are going so well for Ukraine and so poorly for Russia, that avid Reddit users are now using the social media platform to voice their horrifying experiences after apparently deciding to avail themselves of a free trip to Ukraine to fulfill their Rambo-like fantasies of smoking Russian soldiers.
“All citizens of the world, friends of Ukraine ... anyone who wants to join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
However, an American volunteer complained of mistreatment by Ukrainian forces - those he came to fight for - and claimed that losses suffered by foreign volunteers are being understated by Ukrainian authorities. “It’s a trap, they’re cutting up our passports and sending us to the front,” he stated in a video.
For those even remotely thinking about going over to Ukraine to volunteer, watch this shit first before you do. Please spread this around. pic.twitter.com/Hxr69eVJn9— 🏴🏴☠️🦝Ohana Kaczynski🦝🏴☠️🏴 (@KaczynskiOhana) March 15, 2022
One Redditor claimed disappointment at “basically being bodies in front of the advancing Russians”, as opposed to being “utilized as a unit with operational capabilities.” Another posted that a “guy tried shooting an [assault rifle] at an [armored personnel carrier] and got wiped out immediately.”
On Sunday, a military base near Yavorov in Western Ukraine - officially known as the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security - was reportedly destroyed by a Russian airstrike. It had been used for years by NATO personnel to train Ukrainian troops. Kiev officials said that 35 people were killed and 130 injured in the attack. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the missile salvo destroyed the facilities used by the “International Legion of Ukraine” and killed “up to 180 foreign fighters.”
Even through the fog of war, it’s clear that the deliberate attempts to shape this conflict as black and white or good versus evil by recruiting influencers to reduce its portrayal to its most simplistic does a disservice to the ultimate objective of reducing casualties on all sides and ultimately achieving a resolution that works in everyone’s interests: that of peace and stability.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.