The White House welcomed popular personalities from the Chinese social media platform TikTok to deliver a briefing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the influencers. During the briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed a claim that the 2016 election was "hacked" by Russians.
The White House spoke to 30 "top TikTok stars" on a Zoom call on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.
The White House has been closely watching TikTok's rise as a dominant news source, leading to its decision to approach a select group of the platform's most influential names. This week, the administration began working with Gen Z For Change, a nonprofit advocacy group, to help identify top content creators on the platform to orchestrate a briefing aimed at answering questions about the conflict and the United States' role in it.
Psaki told the influencers, "Thank you all for everything you're doing. I mean, use of your platforms to educate, to inform, to debunk, to demystify, during what is a very tumultuous, heartbreaking time in the world is remarkable, and we recognize and value all of your platforms."
The platform the influencers use is the Beijing-based short-form video app TikTok – which has been scrutinized for potentially having security risks. The Department of Defense stated that the social media app features "potential security risks associated with its use." In 2020, the U.S. Army, and Navy prohibited TikTok from being used on government-issued phones. Last July, the massively popular social media app gave itself permission to collect biometric data of U.S. users – which includes faceprints and voiceprints.
Jules Suzdaltsev – a TikTok personality who was born in Ukraine – claimed the officials at the meeting dodged hard questions and said, "The energy of the call felt like a press briefing for kindergarteners."
One of the influencers at the briefing on the war in Ukraine is Ellie Zeiler – an 18-year-old with over 10.5 million followers on TikTok where she typically does dances and makeup tutorials.
"I’m here to relay the information in a more digestible manner to my followers," Zeiler told the Washington Post. "I would consider myself a White House correspondent for Gen Z."
During the call with the TikTok influencers, Psaki claimed that Russia "hacked" the 2016 election in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
"If you look back at 2014, and frankly even 2016, when Russia invaded Ukraine and then in 2016, when they, you know, of course, hacked our election here, we did not do that, we did not declassify information," Psaki told the group of TikTok stars.
Fox News notes, "While Russian hackers were behind the stealing of emails from Democratic officials like John Podesta, there is no evidence that they tampered with election results as part of the 2016 hacking spree."
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence investigated possible Russian influence on the 2016 election and released a report in 2017.
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election," the DNI investigation found.
"Russian intelligence accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards," the report stated. "Since early 2014, Russian intelligence has researched US electoral processes and related technology and equipment."
"DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying," the report declared.
Coincidentally, Russia is also using high-profile TikTok influencers to push its narrative regarding the invasion of Ukraine, according to a report from Vice News.
The outlet reports that there is a "coordinated campaign to pay Russian TikTok influencers to post videos pushing pro-Kremlin narratives about the war in Ukraine." Vice News also claims that there is a secret Telegram channel run by the Russian government that "gave potential contributors a step-by-step guide on how to circumvent TikTok's ban on uploads from Russian accounts."
This isn't the first time the Biden administration has turned to TikTok influencers.
Last August, the White House enlisted "Gen Z" social media influencer Benny Drama to be Psaki's "intern" to help spread awareness about COVID-19 vaccines with a viral TikTok video.