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Beyond cute cat videos: How Russia is using TikTok to tell its story of the invasion

Beyond cute cat videos: How Russia is using TikTok to tell its story of the invasion

As Russian troops invade cities, armies of trolls are employed online to stir up anti-Ukraine sentiment. On TikTok, clever videos serve up Russian nationalism with a dash of humour

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.

In the cat video, a husky puppy identified by a digitally inserted US 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 7,75,000 times in two weeks, is the work of an account named Funrussianprezident that boasts 3,10,000 followers. Almost all of its videos feature pro-Russian content.

Analysts at several different research organisations contacted by The Associated Press said they are seeing a sharp increase in online activity by groups affiliated with the Russian state. That’s in keeping with Russia’s strategy of using social media and state-run outlets to galvanise domestic support while seeking to destabilise the Western alliance.

Across the internet, there's been a rapid uptick in suspicious accounts spreading anti-Ukrainian content, according to a report from Cyabra, an Israeli tech company that works to detect disinformation. Its analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. They saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine's Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000 per cent when compared with just days earlier.

“This is the way they go to war; it’s a central part of Russian doctrine,” said Jim Ludes, a former US defense analyst who now directs the Pell Centre for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University. Ludes said Russian disinformation campaigns are intended to galvanise Russian support while confusing and dividing the country’s opponents.