On Thursday afternoon, 30 top TikTok stars gathered on a Zoom call to receive key information about the war unfolding in Ukraine. National Security Council staffers and White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed the influencers about the United States’ strategic goals in the region and answered questions on distributing aid to Ukrainians, working with NATO and how the United States would react to a Russian use of nuclear weapons.
As the crisis in Ukraine has escalated, millions have turned to TikTok for information on what is happening there in real time. TikTok videos offered some of the first glimpses of the Russian invasion and since then the platform has been a primary outlet for spreading news to the masses abroad. Ukrainian citizens hiding in bomb shelters or fleeing their homes have shared their stories to the platform, while dangerous misinformation and Russian propaganda have also spread. And TikTok stars, many with millions of followers, have increasingly sought to make sense of the crisis for their audiences.
The White House has been closely watching TikTok’s rise as a dominant news source, leading to its decision to approach a select group of the platform’s most influential names.
This week, the administration began working with Gen Z For Change, a nonprofit advocacy group, to help identify top content creators on the platform to orchestrate a briefing aimed at answering questions about the conflict and the United States’ role in it. Victoria Hammett, deputy executive director of Gen Z For Change, contacted dozens with invitations via email and gathered potential questions for the Biden administration.
The invitations to the event were distributed Tuesday and Wednesday. Kahlil Greene, 21, a creator with more than 534,000 followers on TikTok, said he wasn’t surprised when an invitation arrived in his email inbox. “People in my generation get all our information from TikTok,” he said. “It’s the first place we’re searching up new topics and learning about things.” So, he figured, it made sense that the Biden administration would engage people like him on the platform.