War via TikTok: The new propaganda machine

AP:

The Russian TikTok video has it all: a cat, puppies and a pulsing background beat. It’s cute, watchable and hardly seems the stuff of state propaganda.

In 2014, Russia flooded the internet with fake accounts pushing disinformation about its takeover of Crimea. Eight years later, experts say Russia is mounting a far more sophisticated effort as it invades Ukraine.

Armies of trolls and bots stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment. State-controlled media outlets look to divide Western audiences. Clever TikTok videos serve up Russian nationalism with a side of humor.

The effort amounts to an emerging part of Russia’s war arsenal with the shaping of opinion through orchestrated disinformation fighting alongside actual troops and weapons.

In the cat video, a husky puppy identified by a digitally inserted U.S. flag swipes at the tail of a tabby identified by a Russian flag. The cat responds with a ferocious jab that sends the hapless dog scurrying. The clip, which has been viewed 775,000 times in two weeks, is the work of an account named Funrussianprezident that boasts 310,000 followers. Almost all of its videos feature pro-Russian content.

“It could just be a patriotic Russian fighting the good fight as they see it, or it could easily be something directly affiliated with the state,” said Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation researcher and expert on Eastern Europe at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Russia has been perfecting these tactics.”

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