Opinion: History as told by the TikTokers

Not only is the Ukrainian conflict on Europe’s doorstep, it is at our fingertips. All it takes is to go online, and there is video footage of the battle in Ukraine. This war is almost immediately available, and we can virtually watch it unfold. This is unlike any other conflict in history. With this conflict, we can watch it as though we are there, get updates from the very people who are experiencing it. They say history is told by its victors. Maybe history will now be told by the TikTokers.

Almost all major news stories cover the invasion of Ukraine that was declared only a few days ago, after Russia’s attack that is said to be ‘one of the biggest attacks since the Second World War’. The threat of ‘World War Three’ seems to be clouding the globe’s thoughts, with almost everyone having an opinion on when NATO should act, and how the situation may escalate.

This war is likely to be the most documented conflict in history, which is a sign of the times. Videos of the conflict have flooded TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter – anyone can create a war documentary, it seems. The conflict in Iraq during 2003 was televised, the Arab Spring was organised through Twitter, and the battle in Ukraine is being dubbed ‘the world’s first TikTok war’

Is ‘watching WW3 all in POV’, as one TikTok commenter put it, going to change the way history is written and understood in years to come? TikTok’s speed and immediacy is enabling people who live in Ukraine to get near-live updates of their country. The quantity of videos has also allowed war analysts to use the clips to inform their research. However, this is not without risks – analysts warn that some TikTok videos mix genuine Ukraine clips with clips from other conflicts. An analyst and social media expert Nick Waters also believes that posting videos and images on social media can become ‘a new type of subterfuge’.

For everyone else, however, are these readily available and near-addictive videos actually helpful? Or is this contributing to the so-called “doomscroll” that we battled with during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic? Humans are wired to pay attention to bad news, and the endless stream of videos from the Ukrainian conflict cannot be good for our mental health. And – perhaps more worryingly – the constant exposure to warzones may be desensitising us to the true atrocities that are occurring.

Despite the numbingly disturbing images and videos of missiles, tanks, and collapsing buildings, there are stories of hope, of bravery: the couple who moved their wedding forward so they could fight together for their country and the woman who stood up to Russian soldiers on the street. And not to mention Ukrainian leader Zelenskyy who, when America offered to bring him to safety, he responded, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Perhaps this unavoidable and immersive exposure of the Ukrainian conflict has mobilised individuals across the globe to help Ukrainians in any way that they can. Protests and demonstrations have taken place not only in Russia, but also ScotlandLondon, and across Europe. Those who have money to spare are being urged to donate to the Red Cross’s Ukraine crisis appeal, and there are many Reddit threads listing various charities to support in order to help the Ukrainian army and citizens. 

One thing many hope for are stricter sanctions from the West, and more measures to grant asylum to the refugees fleeing Ukraine. About 50 charities signed an open letter in The Times, urging the UK government to reconsider its Nationality and Borders Bill. This bill is currently being considered, which will make arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence, including for those seeking asylum. It also would mean that individuals seeking asylum who already resided in a safe country may be declared ‘inadmissible’. According to the open letter, this bill ‘undermines our obligation to give all who seek asylum a fair hearing on our soil by discriminating against refugees depending on how they reach our shores.’

This conflict, for many reasons, is unlike any conflict before. For the first time, we have access to first-hand experience of citizens and soldiers in real-time. For one of the first times, documenting a war has become a social media phenomenon. Perhaps this will encourage individuals to donate where they can. Perhaps this will encourage governments and organisations to implement sanctions and refugee routes. And perhaps this will change the way history is told and remembered.

How you can help:

Send a letter to your MP

Donate to the Red Cross

Donate to National Bank of Ukraine

Contact your friends that live/have family in Ukraine

Check out this Reddit thread for more places to donate

Further reading:

Sky News: Russia invades Ukraine: Rises in prices of bread, meat, diamonds and gas – how the invasion will affect the UK

Open Democracy: Exclusive: 623 new ‘British’ companies are actually controlled from Russia

BBC News: UK will not look away from Russia invasion in Ukraine – PM

BBC News: Russia attack on Ukraine catastrophe for Europe, say Boris Johnson

The Guardian: How can Britons help the people of Ukraine

The Kyiv Independent

The New Voice of Ukraine

Fox News: Russia-Ukraine war: ‘Pray for the safety of the Ukrainian people,’ says Chicago pastor

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