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Ukraine complains that Russia ‘is dominating’ TikTok

Many videos on the platform claim President Zelensky won’t be legitimate after May 20

Kiev wants TikTok’s help to counter Moscow’s dominance on that social media platform, one of Ukraine’s top information warfare officials told Bloomberg on Tuesday.

Russians are advancing in cyberspace as well as on the battlefield, according to the outlet, which interviewed Andrey Kovalenko, head of the Center for Countering Disinformation (CCD) at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

“Russia is dominating us on TikTok” due to the sheer scale of its effort, said Kovalenko. “We need to adjust our approach and consider focusing on this social network as well.”

According to Kovalenko, the Russians are “working systematically,” creating fake accounts with Ukrainian SIM cards, and “gaming” TikTok algorithms to reach a wider audience in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, there aren’t very many Ukrainian creators on the platform, Kovalenko said. His own account, with some 543,000 followers, features videos that “underscore Ukraine’s views on the war,” according to Bloomberg.

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Kovalenko has previously pushed back on demands by Ukrainian officials to ban Telegram, arguing this would be impossible, impractical, and actually harm Kiev’s propaganda operations. He told Bloomberg he doesn’t favor banning TikTok either, but would prefer the company to open an office in Kiev to “help fight disinformation more effectively.”

Ukraine already got TikTok’s owners ByteDance to ban 24 “pro-Russian” channels by complaining to its representatives in the EU, he added.

Estimates cited by Bloomberg indicate that only 25% of social media users in Ukraine have TikTok, while over 70% have Telegram. By way of comparison, only 8% are on X (formerly Twitter).

According to Kovalenko, the Russian “disinformation” on the platform amounts to questioning President Vladimir Zelensky’s legitimacy. Videos by Russian “bots” are focusing on May 20, when Zelensky’s term is due to expire. Kiev has postponed all elections, citing the martial law imposed due to the conflict with Russia.

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TikTok’s quarterly reports show that the company removed two million videos in Ukraine during the last three months of 2023, suspected of being part of “covert influence operations” by artificially pushing either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian narratives. 

Kiev’s sudden interest in TikTok follows the passage of a bill in the US Congress that allocated some $61 billion in aid to Ukraine. Tucked into the bill was the requirement for ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American company or be banned as a national security risk. ByteDance has said it would challenge the requirement in court.

May 08, 2024 at 03:53AM
RT

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