Russia is using the Chinese app Tiktok to shape opinion through orchestrated disinformation as it continues its invasion of Ukraine.
From cat memes to puppies, the app has become Russia’s new propaganda front to stoke anti-Ukrainian sentiment.
State-controlled media seeks to divide Western audiences. The head of Russian public television RT has no doubts. If fellow citizens oppose President Vladimir Putin’s action in Ukraine, they are no longer Russian.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the international English-language news network, is never one to mince words and has a habit of making scathing remarks on Twitter in defense of Putin whom she simply calls “leader”.
“If you’re ashamed of being Russian now, don’t worry, you’re not Russian,” she summarizes the anti-war movement in her country.
Alphabet Inc’s Google has banned downloads of Russian media outlet RT’s mobile app on Ukrainian territory at the request of the Kyiv government.
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Google has banned RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to a decision by Facebook after the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia used a similar tactic in 2014 when it flooded the internet with fake accounts pushing misinformation about its takeover of Crimea.
Eight years later, experts say Russia is mounting a far more sophisticated effort by invading Ukraine.
In the video of the cat, a husky puppy identified with a digitally inserted American flag sweeps the tail of a tabby cat identified with a Russian flag. The cat responds with a fierce blow that sends the unfortunate dog rushing forward.
The clip, which has been viewed 775,000 times in two weeks, is the work of an account named Funrussianprezident which has 310,000 subscribers. Almost all of his videos feature pro-Russian content.
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“It could just be a patriotic Russian fighting the good fight as he sees it, or it could easily be something directly affiliated with the state,” said disinformation researcher Nina Jankowicz. and Eastern Europe expert at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Russia has perfected these tactics.”
Several thousand Russians demonstrated against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the police reaction was the most usual in the face of criticism from the Kremlin: hundreds of arrests.
Thus, the anti-war movement has moved online, where it is beginning to make its voice heard and garner support, some of it high profile.
Ukrainian flags adorn profile photos and teary-eyed emojis are strewn liberally among statements online. The #NoToTheWar hashtag was trending on Twitter on Saturday.
Since Thursday morning, when the invasion of Ukraine began, various Russian celebrities, journalists and bloggers have expressed their horror and helplessness, pleading for an immediate end to the war.
Famous video blogger and documentary filmmaker Yuri Dud saw one of his posts online get a million likes.
“I write these words for a reason. When my children grow up and discover this moment in history…and ask me ‘Daddy, what did you do?’, I want to have written proof that I did not choose this regime and did not support its imperialist rage,” he wrote.
Addressing celebrities and the “thousands and thousands” of anonymous Russians speaking out against the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked them and asked them to arrest those who “lie to the whole world”.
Putin described Zelensky and his government as “terrorists” and “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”, urging the country’s military to overthrow him.
(With agency contributions)