TikTok influencers are the new wartime propagandists

March 14, 2022

By Ella Carroll-Smith

The Washington Post recently broke a story revealing that the Biden administration has been briefing dozens of TikTok influencers about the U.S. strategy and messaging around the war in Ukraine. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attended the call and answered questions about the U.S.’s work with NATO as well as plans for aid and a response to Putin, should he choose to use nuclear weapons. 

It might seem odd that the Biden administration is spending its time briefing social media influencers in the midst of an international crisis, but per The Washington Post, “With millions of people getting their information about war from the platform, the administration wants to get its messaging to top content creators.” 

This is not the first time the White House has turned to TikTok stars in order to gain traction with young Americans. Just a few months ago, they partnered with a major TikTok influencer to release a video promoting coronavirus vaccines, that was widely mocked for its frivolity. 

More than 60% of all TikTok users are under age 30 and 32.5% are between ages 10-19. The White House evidently wants to ensure that this precious subset of voters and soon-to-be voters are receiving state-approved information, but it’s unclear just how accurate that information is going to be. 

On the call with TikTok influencers, Psaki claimed that the 2016 election was hacked by Russians. The Biden administration has also claimed that the recent gas price spikes are solely the fault of Putin, despite the fact that prices started climbing long before Putin invaded Ukraine.   

The Biden administration is not the only governing body turning to TikTok to promulgate its preferred wartime messaging. Over in Russia, TikTok influencers are being paid to spread Kremlin propaganda. From VICE: “These campaigns were launched at the beginning of the invasion and have involved a number of the highest-profile influencers on TikTok, some of whom have over a million followers. And even though TikTok has banned new uploads from users located inside Russia, the campaigns have not stopped.”

TikTok has been a breeding ground for misinformation for years. During the winter Olympics, China paid American social media influencers to promote its state propaganda. Last year, a left-wing environmental group used TikTok stars to push its progressive climate agenda.

Many U.S. companies have recently taken action against Russia. Facebook changed its guidelines to allow for calls for violence against Russian soldiers. Other companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Starbucks have halted operations in Russia altogether. 

Yet Chinese-owned TikTok is allowing the Kremlin to blatantly spread propaganda on its platform. Perhaps that has something to do with the cozy relationship that’s been brewing between China and Russia for months. 

The war for Ukraine is not only waging on the ground, it’s also waging on social media and TikTok has become ground zero for propaganda aimed at the youngest and most impressionable subset of our population. 


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