The story of how creators in Russia feel abandoned after TikTok cut them off this week tells us something about what we’re all learning about 21st century war right now.
As Vice reports:
Creators told VICE World News that TikTok’s decision to suspend new posts from users in Russia
while it assessed Russia’s new “fake news” law had cut them off from the world, and funds they had accrued via the app…
“I lost the opportunity to broadcast my ideas, to share the real picture,” said the creator, whose identity we are not publishing for safety reasons. “I also see it as a very sad fact that limits our ability to connect with each other while being in different countries. Of course I realise TikTok does it not to censor but for perhaps a different reason – but the result is that we have fewer ways to connect with people around the world.”
The sad story of ordinary Russians ‘losing their voice’ reflects how social media is helping us understand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine like no conflict before it, while also being a far more important front in the war than any conflict before it.
The more popular Instagram and WhatsApp were not blocked
, perhaps suggesting the move was designed to encourage the platforms to bend to Putin’s will
. Keeping the population happy by not cutting off their Insta, but hoping parent company Meta would play ball with censorship seemed to be the goal… Until today, when Russia branded Meta an "extremist organisation” and banned Instagram too
. 😬 WhatsApp remains safe for now.
And social media’s potential to be used as a weapon was addressed by the platforms too. Twitter banned
#IStandWithPutin accounts, while Twitter
removed disinformation by the Russian embassy in London. Snapchat turned off its ‘heatmap’
in Ukraine so it couldn’t be used to see where people were posting from, and Instagram also took steps to improve the privacy
of users in Russia and Ukraine.
Perhaps the strangest policy change the war has ushered in is Meta loosening rules
around death and violence threats against Russian leaders and soldiers. In what internal emails called “a spirit-of-the-policy allowance”, users in certain Eastern European countries can vent their frustrations with some violent catharsis, as long as they don’t get too specific about the details.
Some death threats are more serious than others, so it’s good to see flexible rules that recognise Vladimir Putin threatening death to Ukrainians is very different to a Polish student venting that they wish Putin was dead. Still, ‘Facebook allows some violent speech’ is a strange thing to see as welcome news, isn’t it?