by James Lynch
Wednesday, 16
March 2022
Debate
08:00

Why is the White House briefing TikTok influencers?

The Biden administration is said to be giving talking points to creators
by James Lynch

In a report by the Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz, it was disclosed that the Biden administration has briefed top content creators on TikTok about the war in Ukraine caused by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion. 

On its surface, providing highly influential online commentators with accurate information to broadcast to the large Gen Z audience on TikTok seems like a necessary move to prevent viral misinformation from spreading among the hyper-online youth. This was the administration’s thought process when they briefed content creators on the Covid vaccine at the height of online scepticism about getting the shot. 

However, the implications of the White House’s information campaign this time around appear much more dubious, as indicated by a noteworthy tidbit caught on Lorenz’s audio of the administration’s briefing. During the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told creators that Russia “hacked our election” in 2016, a false claim that two-thirds of Democratic voters apparently believed when polled back in 2018. While it is true that the Guccifer 2.0 leaks hampered the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, and Russian hackers did target almost half of America’s states in the general election, no evidence of tampering with vote counts has ever been presented to the public in the Muller report or elsewhere.

Presenting government-backed falsehoods to young, impressionable TikTok creators on its own has serious implications, especially as wartime propaganda heats up. But it is also troubling to see how the Biden administration’s TikTok creator outreach adds another layer to federal directives over information on tech platforms. Previously, the White House demanded Twitter and Facebook take down what they labelled misinformation. Now, government officials are directly giving influencers wartime talking points to present on a platform indirectly controlled by the government of China, a key Russian ally and US geopolitical adversary. 

This move could not only ramp up tensions with China, but it puts creators whose livelihoods rely on their large audiences in an impossible position. On one hand, the executive branch could threaten to unilaterally ban TikTok to coerce influencers, or pressure the platform to suppress certain content they deem insufficiently adherent to government talking points. 

On the other hand, the CCP could use its massive power over private enterprise in China to pressure TikTok into what the regime deems US government-sponsored falsehoods, a claim that’s been given some validity after Psaki’s briefing. In the past, China has used its muscle to have pro-Hong Kong content taken off the platform during the civil unrest in 2019, setting the precedent for Chinese intervention on TikTok during tense geopolitical situations

Given the geopolitical implications of Chinese and American influence on TikTok, and the massive young audience on the platform, TikTok could become the prime battleground for information control as the Russian invasion of Ukraine carries on. Already we have seen the Russian government use their own influencers to promote pro-Putin propaganda and spread their narratives about the war in Ukraine, even as TikTok has banned uploads from taking place in Russia. It’s unlikely that China will prevent this from happening due to their support for Russia, and it means that the Kremlin also sees where the future of information warfare lies.

The possibility of governments using coercive measures on influencers or social media platforms to directly dictate speech poses a major threat to press freedom around the world and must be combated on TikTok and beyond before it’s too late. Lives are at stake, and so is the First Amendment.

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

On its surface, providing highly influential online commentators with accurate information to broadcast to the large Gen Z audience on TikTok seems like a necessary move to prevent viral misinformation from spreading among the hyper-online youth.”
No – on its surface it appears to be creating an opportunity for propaganda and manipulation of the narrative, which is exactly what is happening.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
5 months ago

The White House is using ‘influencers’ to spread lies. They’re blaming the invasion of Ukraine for inflation that began last year – though many of the targeted demographic for this propaganda will be unaware of it.

American MSM first denied rising prices were happening, calling it a “right-wing talking point”, then they admitted it was happening, but it was “transitory” and lower than the reality. The next move was to say inflation was real, but that it was a good thing!

There’s no way to sugar-coat this or talk down its depths of deception.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
5 months ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

That is interesting. Do the American MSM not know that inflation hits hardest those who don’t own inflation-proof assets like property and shares? I.e. the poorest in society??

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
5 months ago

They don’t care – the Democrat Party is their party, Biden is their President.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
5 months ago

Why is the White House briefing TikTok influencers?

To spread misinformation.
Simples.
Or am I still allowed to say that?

Warren T
Warren T
5 months ago

Remember, all this manipulation and spreading of misinformation is about saving Democracy!

Graham Hobbins
Graham Hobbins
5 months ago

Something vaugely “1984” about this war of influence and information, especially when it concerns the medium being used. We will have made a generation of people a bit like the working class people that Winston described, as we are effectively denying people the chance to stretch their independent intellectual and analytical capabilites beyone anything that the very narrow confines of Twitter or Tik Tok can provide or direct.
Sometimes, actually – all of the time – no information at all is better than social media…

Last edited 5 months ago by Graham Hobbins
Graham Hobbins
Graham Hobbins
5 months ago
Reply to  Graham Hobbins

To clarify “working class”, I am only describing only in the sense of the description and storyline in 1984.

Warren T
Warren T
5 months ago

GASP! Say it’s not so?
This has been going on for many years. It was unearthed during Clinton’s reign. Reporters who correctly disseminated the official message were rewarded with increasing levels of access to information.

Su Mac
Su Mac
5 months ago

Only a very immature writer could start an article using the phrase with “Russian strongman Putin”. Seriously??
Mind-reader as well apparently who believes that telling Tik Tokkers what to write “seems like a necessary move to prevent viral misinformation from spreading among the hyper-online youth. This was the administration’s thought process when they briefed content creators on the Covid vaccine at the height of online scepticism about getting the shot.”
How are people still so naive?! Baffling…