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TikTok warfare? How digital communication shapes the war in Ukraine

A silhouette of a hand holding up an iPhone with the TikTok logo illuminated on screen. Photo by Solen Feyissa via Unsplash.

In joint event with Aspen Institute, Joanna Bryson and Vivian Schiller discuss relevance and changing landscape of online communication for warfare.

The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has become the most internet-accessible war in history. On 12 April 2022, in partnership with the Aspen Institute Germany, the Hertie School’s Centre for Digital Governance hosted a panel discussion between Vivian Schiller, Executive Director of Aspen Digital at the Aspen Institute U.S., and Joanna Bryson, Professor of Ethics and Technology at the Hertie School. The event, moderated by Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Germany Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner shed light on platforms and digital media in times of war.

According to Vivian Schiller, digital technology such as smartphones has allowed both lies and the truth to travel with much greater power and speed. “You just have to look at Ukrainian social media users documenting the brutal invasion of Russian forces and debunking false flag operations,” she said. Another impactful novelty, she noted, was the investigative journalism collective Bellingcat, which triangulates satellite data.

Both panellists also discussed the role of AI for cybersecurity. “I always tell cyber security experts that AI is actually a software, something that people write,” said Joanna Bryson. “I always mention that you cannot trust AI if you cannot trust strong cyber security.” In response to those sceptical of artificial intelligence, she said, “Digital systems need cyber security, and that’s my line to people who think AI is evil.”

Audience impressions followed the panel discussion. Participants from Russia and Ukraine shared first-hand experiences on how they used virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent bans on social media platforms, and how they used social media to stay up to date on the war’s latest events.


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