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White House enlists TikTokers in messaging war with Russia: report

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TikTok isn’t just for dances anymore.

The White House briefed 30 high-profile creators on the popular app Thursday about key details of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Washington Post reported.

According to the outlet, the briefing took place over Zoom and was led by White House press secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Council special communications adviser Matt Miller.

The topics reportedly broached included America’s strategic goals in Eastern Europe, how the US would respond to nuclear escalation by Russia, and how millions of dollars in aid were being distributed to Ukrainians affected by the war.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine began Feb. 24, TikTok users in Russia and Ukraine have continuously posted videos showing the aftermath of bombings and the effect of economic sanctions.

At one point in the briefing, White House director of digital strategy Rob Flaherty noted that the Biden administration recognized that TikTok “is a critically important avenue” for much of the American public — especially Gen Z — to find out about news.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki helped lead the briefing.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“So we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source,” Flaherty added, according to the Washington Post.

Several of the TikTok creators who attended Thursday’s meeting have since posted videos – ranging from 30 seconds to 3 minutes in length — on information they learned from the White House, including the Biden administration’s refusal to impose no-fly zones over Ukraine and falling Russian troop morale. Those videos have since garnered hundreds of thousands of views. 

The same information has been publicly discussed by the administration in more traditional White House, State Department and Pentagon briefings over the last few weeks. 

The reaction to the meeting was mixed, with some TikTok creators feeling more informed to answer their followers’ questions. However, Ukrainian-born journalist and TikTok creator Jules Suzdaltsev told the Washington Post he thought the call was a “press briefing for kindergartners.” 

Kahlil Greene, a creator with more than 534,000 followers on the social media app, told the outlet that it made sense the administration would want to partner with creators like him. 

“People in my generation get all our information from TikTok. It’s the first place we’re searching up new topics and learning about things,” he said. 

Kahlil Greene
Kahlil Greene was among the creators on the call.
TikTok/@kahlilgreene

In his video recap of the meeting, Greene noted that several other TikTok creators had asked questions “based off of the content they create.” 

He also criticized the White House for not acknowledging America’s own involvement and connection to “occupations, invasions, in general bad faith actions throughout the world.” 

Since the start of President Biden’s term in office, the administration has tried to partner with TikTok creators and celebrities to spread various messages, including urging Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive their booster shots. 

TikTok was not looked upon as favorably during the Trump administration, which repeatedly attempted to ban the app from the US over it being Chinese-owned. 

The ban was ultimately blocked in October 2020 by a Pennsylvania judge who called the federal government’s concerns of a national security threat “hypothetical.”

Concerns over China’s involvement in the app may subside soon, however, as the company is in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to store all US user information with Oracle and prevent Chinese owner ByteDance from accessing it, according to Reuters. 

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