INFORMATION WAR: White House turns to TikTokers to battle Putin’s lies and propaganda

White House held a meeting with 30 popular influencers, who immediately posted about Russia's war on Ukraine in the 'information war'


                            INFORMATION WAR: White House turns to TikTokers to battle Putin’s lies and propaganda
In this photo illustration, a mobile phone featuring the TikTok app is displayed next to the American flag on August 03, 2020, in New York City. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
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For many people, Russia's invasion of Ukraine isn't just an ordinary war, it's also an information war. As with dictators before him, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a well-oiled propaganda machine channeling lies to Russians and the world about Ukraine. Now it seems like the US is engaging in a bit of propaganda itself, sidestepping traditional media for TikTok. 

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The social media platform has proven to be a key avenue for news in recent years. We've seen everything from help during accidents to racist behavior captured on the platform. In Ukraine too, it has given the world several news stories as TIkTokers in the country record living in the war zone. For example, TikToker @Valerisssh went viral in early March for her videos showing life in a shelled-out Chernihiv.

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Because of the key role of social media, it appears the Biden administration is keen to tap into influencers to get the word out about what's really happening on the ground. We've seen this before, with Covid-19, but this time, the White House isn't just battling anti-vaxxers, but the well-oiled Kremlin propaganda machine.

A young man casts a shadow as he walks past an advertisement for social media company TikTok on September 21, 2020, in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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White House meets TikTokers

Led by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Council communications special advisor Matt Miller, the White House met with around 30 social media influencers on March 10, 2022, via Zoom. The 30 were identified by Gen Z For Change, a non-profit advocacy group The Washington Post reported. The meeting was to reportedly provide information about the Ukraine war, with Kahlil Greene saying that they were encouraged "to use our platform to highlight different issues as they arise, especially when mainstream media fails to do so."

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The briefing focused on three key topics - work with allies, direct assistance to Ukraine, and how Biden was attempting to prevent a larger war. The move is in part necessary because Russia's propaganda machine continues to spread lies, despite social media's best efforts to crack down on it. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia's Twitter account, for example, has been engaged in spreading lies like Ukraine using human shields, and the US is preparing toxic chemical weapons in the country. Those tweets are still up and have seen hundreds of retweets despite multiple calls by Twitter users for the social media giant to take down the account.

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Among those the White House met with were Aaron Parnas, Marcus J. DiPaola, Jules Terpak, and Greene. All four repeated the White House talking points on their social networks, reaching out to millions of followers in an instant. The move is certainly commendable, given that the White House has been repeating the message in regular press briefings as well. However, it appears that those press conferences aren't having as much effect as they would have hoped for. 

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End of traditional media?

Furthermore, it appears the White House is looking to target a broader spectrum of people, which is why TikTok is so vital. "The @WhiteHouse providing an open and causal Q&A for creators is a no-brainer. TikTok is the media app that many young people click first after unlocking their phones," tweeted Terpak. Greene echoed that sentiment, telling The Post, "People in my generation get all our information from TikTok." 

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A recording of the call also heard White House officials acknowledge that fact. "We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest... so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source," White House director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty said according to The Post. Of course, Biden isn't the only one to weaponize social media, Donald Trump has also been a keen user of platforms like Twitter and YouTube to get his message out, and until recently, Putin too was using Russian influencers to spread lies about Ukraine. 

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Whatever happens in Ukraine, it's likely that this will go down in history as the first "information war", with TikTokers playing key roles, almost as vital as those who pick up arms to defend Ukraine.