By Meghan Dougherty
Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School
Every day, Philadelphia-area teenagers take out their phones, open up TikTok, and scroll endlessly, watching video after video seeing the latest dances or trends.
But now with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many of these teens are being shown a variety of chilling videos about the war.
Users are able to obtain clips from the conflict in Europe with a click of a button. Gen Z’ers, which is TikTok’s main demographic, are experiencing this new perspective on war firsthand, and are expressing mixed emotions over what is being shown.
This is the first war that is being documented through an app like TikTok. For area teens, there are some good and bad consequences.
Emily Komoroski, 16, from Ridley says she’s been unable not to look at the videos. “Everyone should know and see the content being put out on TikTok because you get to see perspectives on the war you have never seen before,” she said.
Siena Commodari, a 14-year-old TikTok user from Wilmington Del., is troubled by some of the content being put on TikTok about the war in regards to the satirical posts. “People are posting videos trying to make a joke out of the war and it is not good because people’s lives are being taken”.
When users open up the TikTok app, they view their “for you” page. This is a section of the app where you are shown endless videos that are tailored to you via TikTok’s algorithm.
Because of the war, many user’s “for you” pages are being flooded with videos about the Russian invasion.
“It is scary because you are scrolling through your “for you” page seeing memes about war and it is being taken as a joke,” said 17-year-old Elaina Blackstock of Aston. “It does not seem right that kids can easily access clips of the war without knowing the context of what is going on, said Blackstock, who is concerned for the younger users on TikTok.
Along with satirical videos being uploaded, misinformation and propaganda about the war have been spreading throughout the app.
When searching “anti-Ukraine” on TikTok, thousands of accounts show up posting pro-Russia propaganda. The account “SimplePutin” is a popular account that shows a life-like Vladimir Putin participating in dances and trends. Amber Waltz, 17, from Ridley, says people on TikTok tend to “twist things up” when discussing topics like war.
Facebook and Twitter have started taking steps to flag such content, but TikTok has yet to take action to help stop the spread of misinformation.
Through this new experience on how the war is viewed, some Gen’Zers see a positive to using TikTok. “We are able to obtain information faster than we ever could before,” Komoroski said.
Journalists in Ukraine are updating their followers hourly on how the situation is escalating. Trey Yingst, the foreign correspondent at Fox News, is an example of the many reporters on the ground in Ukraine and Moscow taking their reporting to TikTok.
Ukrainians are using TikTok as a way to connect with one another and spread information in their effort to flee their country.
To Komoroski, those feeds have created a sense of urgency and immediacy around understanding the war and its impact.
“Watching TikToks about the war,” she said, “makes me feel like I am living through history and have a better understanding of what the Ukrainians are going through.”