Hacker News Re-Imagined

One App – Two Worlds: This Is TikTok in Russia and Ukraine

  • 1260 points
  • 2 months ago

  • @mmgu
  • Created a post

One App – Two Worlds: This Is TikTok in Russia and Ukraine


@karencarits 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I like the systematic approach they have used, and am a bit scared by the results. In one way, it is not that surprising that a social media app is so tightly controlled and used as a tool by the Russian government to hide unpleasant parts of reality. But I think it is a bit surprising that TikTok hasn't met more criticism and resistance on this

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@globalise83 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Excellent production: right length, fabulous graphics, very creative approach overall: A grade from me.

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@yosito 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I already kind of knew intuitively that this would be happening in some form, but seeing it examined like this really puts it into perspective.

I've noticed that on Snapchat and Instagram, I'm not able to see any new public content coming from Ukraine. On the Snapchat map, Ukraine is completely empty. I have a few Ukrainian friends, and I still see their content, but public stuff seems to be filtered or censored somehow. I'm a US-based account, and I've been in the US and Dominican Republic lately.

I think this phenomenon is related to filter bubbles (but also more than that). I've already been noticing for years that my connections with different political views, or different interests, are being fed completely different realities. Sometimes it's benign recommendations, other times it's creepy advertiser-driven manipulation, and this example of Ukraine/Russia shows that there is clearly some blatant, wide-scale censorship going on. The narrative is being controlled by powers operating in the shadows. It really is an unseen information war.

As someone who has been traveling for 10 years, my friends are incredibly diverse. So I often hear news from outside of my country and my filter bubbles. And my go-to source for trying to peek outside of the filter bubbles is Wikipedia's current events portal.

I've got a few Russian friends. Most are outside of Russia, but one who I regularly talk to is in Russia and stays on Instagram using a VPN. I've had some conversations with her about the war, and while she's certainly not a fan of Putin, and knows there is a war going on, she seems to be completely naive about the severity of it. When we talk about it she says things about how truth is hard to know because the media lies. She is hearing stories from the West but having a hard time knowing what is really happening.

There really needs to be some new form of leaflet drops to get real information to Russians despite the Information Age Iron Curtain.

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@throwaway2474 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This is unsurprising. Every tech company does this. Pretty much all maps apps redraw boundaries of places like Taiwan and Crimea to suit local sensitivities. Search engines selectively censor content, etc.

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@dirtyid 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Govs get to determine propaganda/narratives within their borders via legal instruments. TikTok follows domestic laws to continue operation. As it should be versus Twitter/FB caving to US foreign policy pressures / propaganda world wide.

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@sdfhbdf 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This article is well made and uncovers very interesting thing. I love how it was technically put together, browsing it on mobile was a great experience, chapeaux bas, i love how great new formats are available to publishers in the digital era outside of serving autoplaying ads.

On thing that caught my attention was the supposed USCentric approach since it counted a distance in miles. I also wonder whether it was translated into russian so it can be shared with russian citizens that they’re being lied to by TikTok

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@vilius 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

If governments are censoring our internet we need to change the way we're being geolocated. VPN is too much configuration and centralisation. TOR is over the top privacy. I want something as accessible as turning the flight mode on my mobile. The button can be placed next to flight mode and called CENSORSHIP. You can turn it on. It will then reveal your true IP address and make the internet very fast. However it's off by default. The internet is a bit slower. But your requests are being cleverly routed through random IPs that are not censored. These random IPs are provided by organisations but most importantly by peer users of the feature who happen to live in free countries. Sort of SETI@home but the goal is to increase intraterrestrial intelligence.

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@soheil 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

What is ironic is surely the dancing video mentioned and not that a publicly funded Norwegian government-owned media, NRK, (Jens Stoltenberg from Norway is the head of Nato) publishes a hit piece on TikTok all the while ignoring what FB, Twitter and many other social media have been doing to people in their own counties including the US for years.

Very convenient.

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@verisimi 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This is a fair point - that people are seeing different things in Russia and Ukraine.

But can we reflect for a second that we are all in the same boat? We don't know what we are presented on screens is real either. Who's to say we are receiving the truth? Are our leaders beneficent? I think not.

We are all in the same boat. We are all propagandised. We don't even know what is going on anywhere else, except for what we are able to personally verify. And even that is limited by how we are able to explain and frame our experience!

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@rejectfinite 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I feel like the premis is flawed. Maybe I am a boomer but who would excpect TikTok to provied unbiased news content?

It is a chinese social media app.

Use established media for news.

And yes I know that is how people get content, I use Youtube and Twitch for political news and its just as bad.

But this is on another level.

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@Koshkin 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Nitpick: the Ukrainian version of the name Nicholas is Mykolai (with an M).

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@throwaway3968 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

It's probably good that Twitter is banned over here at the moment. Overnight, my feed filled up with a nasty mix of ethnic cleansing and "collective guilt" calls coming from Ukraine in response to the massacre. All directed at people who've been on their side by all legal means they have available. I don't know how to react to that.

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@cabirum 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are blocked in Russia because they only allow pro-Ukraine narrative. The social platforms became weapons in this war. Anyone noticed they blocked accounts of most Russian media companies and news sources? Or users with "wrong" opinions are being shadow banned? Or Google deprioritised or excluded some Russian gov services (even non news)?

Sorry, but unbiased sources do not exist. Free speech does not exist. It's not two worlds, but two bubbles.

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@mensetmanusman 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This is very sad.

Obviously, it would be valuable if someone could suddenly change TikTok so that it thinks all Russians are Ukrainians.

Such information warfare is vastly less violent than missiles and probably much cheaper to implement. The sooner the Russian population knows what their leadership is really accomplishing, the better for the world.

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@bacan 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This is exactly what happens when algorithms tailor what people see on their newsfeed. They will push narratives.

One of the main reasons I prefer Reddit is the existence of r/All. Provides a very balanced view

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@bertil 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I feel like the article is dodging the reality of what they are asking: How many people are employed by TikTok in Russia? What is their responsability and how do they influence product decisions? What would happen if TikTok refuses to comply with local laws?

I’m not sure that sending local ad sales people who have no influence on the product, and depriving their family of their support is the ethical choice.

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@toxik 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

The dream of the internet as some sort of great democratizing force is already dead and buried, but for any who still believes, this must surely be the final nail in that coffin. Controlling the narrative is only a problem for existing democracies with press freedom. All bets are off once the threat model includes control of the media.

So cherish your freedom of speech, and exercise and defend it. I don’t know what to do concretely, maybe donate to the EFF or something.

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@lastdong 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Brilliant article, thank you for sharing

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@Tenoke 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Isn't tiktok's whole thing that it shows you very personally curated content based on data about you including demographics and most users see different content? Wouldn't users from Ukraine and England or ones from Mexico and America also see different videos?

Are the Ukrainian videos actually unavailable in Russian TikTok if you search for them? It seems obvious that as you watch more non-war stuff (which might be the default based on the demographics) you'll see even less of them in the Russian account. And if you really can't see them even if you try (which the article doesn't even say as far as I saw) then isn't that the real news rather than the experiment that just shows how different demographics see different things on TikTok? What am I missing?

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@gytdev 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

since HN is a technology oriented site, can someone explain what technologies are being used in this article? The graphics are amazing! Is it mainly three.js?

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@prionassembly 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This made me finally download TikTok and.. OW! that's REALLY NSFW!

(I didn't think I'd live, as a man, to be offended by sparsely-clad voluptuous women, but there I am.)

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@umarniz 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I love the execution of this!

Not comparing but I did a similar project 8 years ago at the peak of Israel / Palestine conflict to compare tweets from Palestine vs tweets from Israel.

Incredible difference when you see them side by side.

It would be great if someone would execute such an idea for more areas of conflict to bring awareness.

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@catchclose8919 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

...uhm, isn't TikTok practically irrelevant in Russia now that they've stopped allowing users to post new content?! I mean, this is what ppl use it for, viewing new content from ppl like them and posting new content hoping to get "famous".

With all respect for the author's work, this is not very relevant, since TikTok is in "zombie mode" now for Russia.

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@throwaway48375 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

>Ukrainian Nykolai gets to see men in military attire singing patriotic songs about loving Ukraine. Or talking about it being a man's duty to sign up for battle.

>Russian Alexei sees a man tripping over in the water, a puppy patting a duckling on the head and some funny, homemade costumes.

Is it just me or does the first one sound like propaganda and the second one sound like normal TikTok?

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@InfiniteRand 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

The one war video that made it through to the Russian bot:

The clip is shared by a Russian account and contains a gaming reference for pausing games

Good factoid to note for dodging automatic filters

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@dark-star 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

It would have helped if they had made it more prominent that you're supposed to scroll down. I was watching the first video, expecting to see a second one for comparison or something. I already closed the tab again and only later saw a coworker browsing HN who clicked on the same link and saw him scroll :)

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@rvnx 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Very well executed project! Congratulations

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@sAbakumoff 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Kremlin Press Secretary Dimitro “the cockroach” Peskov openly boasted about using VPN. Nothing prevents RU citizens to use VPN to get the full access to the TT content.

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@sebastianconcpt 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Social Media big tech in collusion with party propagandists is poison in the internet freedom dream. Ideologues owning big tech is a dream come true for authoritarians. How are we going to fix this I have no idea.

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@user3939382 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

My position is that Russia's Article 51 legal justification for the invasion is a stretch at best, but that the US policy of unnecessary, aggressive NATO expansion [1] baited Putin into this war whereas he was very clear Ukrainian NATO membership was a red line for him. We also made no effort to encourage Ukraine to honor the Minsk accords which would have almost certainly prevented this. If Mexico was hostile and Russia was in the process of working with them to put nukes in Tijuana I wonder if the US would sit idly by? Meanwhile was have Condoleezza Rice without a hint of irony on the news agreeing that invading a sovereign country is a war crime (does Iraq ring a bell?)

I see my point of view reflected only in alternative, independent media. This includes, for example, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges who had years of his work purged from YouTube simply because he had a show on RT which was never once sympathetic to Putin.

My anti-war, pro-diplomacy POV is banned from corporate media, and flagged/downvoted into oblivion on Reddit and even Hacker News. From my perspective most supporting sending arms and money to Ukraine has been the victim of a policy campaign by the arms industry which has already generated windfall arms sales to Ukraine and now Germany (!). So am I surprised by this story? No. I've been seeing a banned perspective on this conflict in the US from day 1.

[1] “We reiterate the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance” June 2021 https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_185000.htm

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@stanislavb 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

And this is one of the means how China will sway future democratic elections around the world - by brainwashing all the TikTok zombies and presenting to them the China manipulated story.

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@beprogrammed 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

What a fantastic article, was captivated from beginning to end.

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@startoffs 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I have noticed that TikTok is more likely to show the content from my current location as I travel between countries. Must be the geo tagging that makes it easy for the . 80km is a long distance when it crosses national borders.

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@totetsu 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

I don't like how this site take over scrolling. I want to read the text in the middle of my screen where there isn't a crack

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@VincentEvans 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Westerners should stop projecting their culture and values on Russians when trying to make sense of what is going on. Russians are not these poor bamboozled fools. Support for Putin is real. Denial of atrocities and justification for war is not rooted in ignorance, but pride.

For years Kremlin cultivated in Russians a sense of injured pride, something akin to the “straight white male” victimhood and persecution complex you see in US fringe groups. Russians were told of greatnesses of their achievements of the past, and how it was stolen from them, how the West is weak, gullible, and corrupt, and is trying to sabotage the inevitable rise of Russia to it’s destined glory.

Russians have enough access to sources of truth, but their world view simply does not compel them to believe those sources that create dissonance with their righteous cause - they can’t be brother killing monsters that rape mothers in front of their children, crush people with tanks, bomb maternity hospitals - so it’s obviously all lies. And since everyone is accusing them of this - then it simply means that everyone is lying and will get what is coming to them.

How do I know this? I was born in Soviet Union, am Russian-speaking and I am unable to explain my anger and grief over what is happening to my own father who thinks that I am a fool to believe in propaganda staged videos full of crisis actors manufactured by Western media.

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@VoodooJuJu 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

A lot of people are praising this article's design, but I personally did not appreciate it. I get it - it's a TikTok story that's made to look and work like TikTok, probably made to appeal to the TikTok class. As one who prefers clear prose over "consoom the content!" video snippets and soundbites, I felt distracted from the message by all the dynamic media.

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@eunos 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

From the experiment they only change the IP addresses and no need to spoof the GPS?

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@hermannj314 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Aggressor nations have the privilege of lying to themselves on the consequences and reality of their wars. The defenders do not get the privilege to ignore that.

Americans barely talked about Afghanistan. For 20 years, our internet was full of funny videos, stupid songs, and memes of Osama bin Laden. Sure we bombed civilians targets and committed war crimes too, but we had very smart lawyers that taught us clever words for why it was moral when we did it. And we nodded our heads in agreement and turned the channel to American Idol.

Americans are well aware that technology enables us to live in our own artificially constructed reality. We spent the last 20 years building it.

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@dcchambers 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

This is a great visual and concrete example of how easily a narrative can be controlled.

This is but one example of a larger systemic issue with media in the 21st century, and an issue with how people consume that media.

Virtually every platform is like this, not just TikTok. It's not like TikTok tries to present itself as a neutral, unbiased source. Their whole premise is delivering "highly curated" content to you as fast as possible. The problem is that people have accepted that as normal and it's doing horrible things to the world. There's a reason everyone feels like we're the most divided we've ever been...and it starts with things like this.

As far as the war in Ukraine is concerned, this is just like classic WW2 propaganda but turned up to 11 due to the nature of how fast and easy it is to spread [mis]information these days.

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@tormeh 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Hm... Pretty solid argument in favor of federated/decentralized protocols, this. Is there anything out there that doesn't suck? Not for chat. We've got Matrix and chat is usually not censored anyway.

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@macinjosh 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Now do Yemeni TikTok and the US.

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@fbn79 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

So Facebook was not so bad after all!?

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@sporkland 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

Love that people are doing this research.

Maybe I'm delusional, but I found it positively surprising that: 1. The Ukrainian user saw videos about the war despite Russia and China wanting to suppress news around it, and I'm sure TikTok taking pressure around it. 2. It mostly isn't algorithmic deception, it's a byproduct of the fact that they had to turn off new video uploads in response to a crazy fake news law.

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@dncornholio 2 months

Replying to @mmgu 🎙

The point of the article is, in my opinion, TikTok is working as intended. What did you expect really?

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