Tik Tok creates connection and conflict during wartime

TikTok is redefining how younger generations understand and view war. During Russia’s lead up to its war against Ukraine, TikTok users were ahead of mainstream news outlets as videos out of Ukraine swept the app.

From just a few swipes on the “For You” page, users were given a glimpse into Russia’s invasion in a way textbooks in classrooms have never been able to with past wars.  

Handheld footage of airstrikes, Ukrainian and Russian soldier interactions, and American teens making jokes about World War 3 were of the thousands of videos tagged with #ukraine. The hashtag has racked up 32.6 billion views on the social media app.

Earlier generations experienced similar violent videos on the internet, such as the beheadings by ISIS in 2014. but TikTok’s variety and structure can be distressing in times of war.

“It’s so fast-paced, so seeing such a wide variety of videos and then the videos of Ukraine flooded my brain with every emotion possible right after,” said senior Erica Williams, a TikTok user. “It felt very damaging.” 

While there are many complaints against the app, it has offered a chance to humanize the war victims that are commonly pushed behind a curtain of statistics. 

Ukranian teen @valerissh on TikTok has documented her time in a bomb shelter and her long journey to safety in Italy. Her comment section is filled with support for her humor and honesty during a dark time for Ukranians. 

“It adds a new perspective while also encouraging more of the minority to be able to have a voice,” Williams said. 

TikTok user Brinna Miller said she finds that there is a form of privilege to battle in viewing these videos. We are able to turn the war off; Ukranians do not have that option.

“It messes with my head knowing what’s happening in other places and knowing that I’m in the position where I can casually check my phone with no danger coming my way,” Miller said.

Misinformation on the app is one more thing to consider when viewing. TikTok pushes its content fast, making it difficult to authenticate what is real. The New York Times reported that not only is lack of context an issue, but editing and the ability to repurpose audio on the app can potentially misinform. 

TikTok videos are spread across different platforms, making it that much harder to fact check. Williams said she feels like she has nowhere to turn for news she can trust between big news outlets and TikTok. 

To stay clear of misinformation, websites such as fullfact.org offer fact checking for photos and videos.

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