Bre Hernandez used to scour TikTok for videos of cosmetic instructions and taco truck reviews, which she would then upload to her YouTube channel. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the 19-year-old has spent hours each day browsing through an app for war films, seeing terrible images of Ukrainian tanks shooting on Russian forces and people fleeing enemy gunfire as they run for their lives.
In reality, the TikTok videos that Ms. Hernandez was seeing and hearing were clips of Ukrainian tanks culled from computer games, as well as a soundtrack that had been published to the app more than a year before. In an investigation of the films published by the New York Times, the footage and music were tracked back to their original origins.
A prominent site for sharing films and images of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is TikTok, a Chinese-owned video app renowned for viral dancing and lip-syncing videos. The app has emerged as one of the most popular venues for sharing footage and photos of the battle. In the last week, hundreds of thousands of recordings about the war have been submitted to the app from all over the globe, according to an assessment published by the London-based newspaper The Times. The invasion has been dubbed “the world’s first TikTok war” by the New Yorker magazine.
TikTok has found itself in a difficult situation as a result of the upsurge. In this case, it is coping with a deluge of films, many of which are unconfirmed, that are being shared about a single incident that has captured the attention of a worldwide audience. The company is being forced to address a massive amount of false and twisted material, which has long plagued more mature social networks and video sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, among others.
According to scholars who examine the site, many popular TikTok videos of the invasion — including those of Ukrainians livestreaming from their bunkers — provide accurate depictions of the event. Other videos, on the other hand, have proven hard to verify and establish. According to the experts, some people seem to be taking advantage of the public’s interest in the invasion in order to get more views.
In one instance, the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda published an audio tape of 13 Ukrainian troops on Snake Island, an outpost in the Black Sea, who were confronted by a Russian military force who demanded that they relinquish their weapons. A number of TikTok videos were created using the footage, with some of them including a statement claiming that all 13 troops had perished. Later, Ukrainian authorities said on Facebook that the guys were alive and had been taken prisoner, but the TikTok videos have not been updated to reflect the new information.
Russian propaganda about the conflict is being targeted at TikTok and other social media platforms, with politicians in the United States and Ukrainian authorities calling for them to take action. This is particularly true of state-sponsored media channels like as Russia Today and Sputnik. Following this announcement, YouTube has said that it would restrict Russia Today and Sputnik in the European Union, while Twitter and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, have stated that they will classify material from the outlets as state sponsored.
Additionally, Sputnik and Russia Today have been blocked in the European Union, and TikTok has said that it would begin designating the outlets as state-sponsored in the regions where they are still accessible. The app also said on Thursday that it has increased the number of resources committed to monitoring for false information regarding the conflict.
For years, TikTok’s content remained largely unaffected by prolonged public scrutiny. Comparatively to Facebook, which has been there since 2004, and YouTube, which was formed in 2005, TikTok was launched just five years ago and only recently became extensively utilised. The software, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was created to make it simple to produce and distribute one- to three-minute films. It gained a reputation as a source of addicting, humorous, and entertaining videos, particularly among younger users, and this reputation has only grown.
In the past, the app has had to manoeuvre through some controversy. It has been questioned about potentially hazardous fads that looked to have originated on its platform, as well as whether it enables underage users and if it sufficiently secures their personal information.
In fact, the exact capabilities that TikTok created in order to allow individuals to share and produce their own material have also made it simple for unconfirmed videos to proliferate throughout the site. In particular, the algorithm used by TikTok’s “For You” tab, which recommends videos based on what individuals have previously viewed, loved, or shared, is a good example. According to Ms. Richards, seeing one video that has false information is likely to result in the viewing of more videos that have false information.
People have taken advantage of another famous TikTok feature that allows them to quickly reuse audio, which has allowed them to make lip-syncing sequences from popular movies or songs. Ms. Richards, on the other hand, believes that audio may be abused and taken out of context.
“I’ve gotten the impression that the videos I’ve been seeing are intended to get me heated up or to emotionally manipulate me,” she stated. The fact that I feel scared has resulted in me sometimes Googling anything or examining the comments to see if it is genuine before I put my faith in it.
A Times reporter informed Ms. Hernandez, the Los Angeles student, that certain TikTok videos she had seen on the war were deceptive and untrustworthy. Ms. Hernandez expressed surprise at learning this from the reporter.
Ms. Hernandez went on to say that TikTok continues to be her favoured news channel. She said that the majority of what she sees on the app is genuine.