After the arrest of Alexei Navalny, the Russian segment of TikTok became rapidly politicized. Schoolchildren are agitating to come to the Saturday rally in defense of the politician and against corruption - their videos with protest hashtags are gaining tens of millions of views. The BBC's Russian service figured out how a social network with short humorous videos turned into a protest platform and who is unhappy with it.

Since when is TikTok a protest social network?

"Two years ago there was no scent of politics at TikTok," Slava Varfolomeev, the author of the telegram channel "His name is TikTok," told the BBC.

"A year ago, tiktoks on a political topic were something out of the ordinary. We sent any tiktok about politics to our channel and wrote:" Wow, look. "

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Gradually, politics in the social network, popular among teenagers, became more and more, Slava recalls. Thus, Nikolai Bondarenko, a communist deputy of the Saratov Regional Duma, gained 386 thousand followers, posting videos on TikTok with strikes at the plant and emotional speeches in parliament.

But all this cannot be compared with the large-scale politicization of the social network in the last week - a wave of interest in politics was caused by Navalny's return to the country, his arrest and the FBK investigation of the president's palace in Gelendzhik.

"I go to TikTok, and I have every third video about" Putin's palace ", the detention of Navalny and the rally on January 23! - he recalls. - Yesterday it was maximized: almost seven videos out of ten - on this topic."

“We cannot say that protest sentiments have emerged only now,” says Lyubava Zaitseva, head of influence marketing at the Piccher advertising agency. “There have always been jokes about Putin, Navalny, and lawlessness. Every time there was a rally, when Navalny was poisoned when he had investigations, videos about it appeared. "

Lyubava herself has an account on TikTok dedicated to socio-political topics, and she managed, for example, to gain  25 thousand views from a video about why Russians live poorly. "But now it was just picked up by everyone: even those who have never been seen in a political position, now expressed it," she told the BBC.

Who is on TikTok?

TikTok has a reputation for being a social network for kids and teens, but that's a misguided stereotype. According to the October report of TikTok, children and young people under 24 years old together account for 32% of users in Russia. A quarter of Tiktokers are between 25 and 34 years old. And 20% are even older: 35-44 years old. There are 25 million users in Russia who visit at least once a month and many of them buy tiktok likes cheap.

Now every user has half of the feed devoted to protest, no matter what interests he has and what videos he watched before, Lyubava Zaitseva is sure.

Indeed, the hashtag "January 23" (the date of the uncoordinated action announced by Navalny's supporters) has 70 million views, and another 29 million have a similar one: "January 23, 2021". The hashtag of "palace Putin", which retells Navalny's latest investigation and jokes about the luxury of the palace in Gelendzhik, has been viewed 21 million times.

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It's all about the TikTok recommendation system, which no other social network has: "You need to spend three hours in TikTok - and he understands what content you like and what to shove into your feed. And there are so many videos about Navalny that there are no more recommendations they filter this content so well: now even people for Putin will be shown videos about Navalny, "Zaitseva explained.

She draws this conclusion, in particular, looking at the comments on her most popular video: about Putin's palace, an investigation of which was published by Navalny on January 20.

“The comments on tiktok are absolutely motley, some children, some people write“ Actually, we are for Putin, ”someone writes:“ How do you know what's inside? ”It is thanks to TikTok that the younger generation will know who he is Navalny, "says Zaitseva.

What do Tiktokers say about politics?

The bulk of the new videos about Navalny and the protests are divided into several types.

One of them is this: schoolchildren and students take a portrait of Putin in the classroom from the wall or replace it with a portrait of Navalny.

The schoolgirl, who removed a portrait of Putin from the wall and scored 3.7 million views, wrote on her Instagram that she was summoned to the principal. And the next day I was already uploading a tiktok from the police station. The girl explained that the school had complained about her to the police, but the police department responded adequately - there were no complaints about the girl.

In separate videos, Tiktokers impose protecool music on their videos, for example, with the song Ic3peak "There is no more death" with the chorus "All Russia is looking at me, let everything burn, let everything burn" and an excerpt from the rapper's track Face: "To be against the government does not mean to be against the homeland, I love Russia for the smell of black currant. " It was under the last song that the girl shot a portrait of Putin from the wall.

Tiktokers fell in love with the phrase "Boy, bring us some vodka, we are flying home" performed by Yulia Navalnaya: Alexey and Yulia filmed this parody of the film "Brother-2" on a plane from Berlin, a few hours before Alexei was detained at the border.

"Boy, bring us some vodka, we are flying home," the girl says in the voice of Yulia Navalnaya and throws her Russian passport behind her back. The screen starts blinking, as if from strobe lights, and in this light, Alexei Navalny appears next to the girl.

Previously, this technique was not at all political: Tiktokers use it in videos about their favorite celebrities they dream of meeting.

And one young English teacher teaches her audience "how to pretend to be an American if you are detained at a rally." She repeats the phrases in English with the correct accent: "You are violating my human rights" and "I will call my lawyer."

Wrong tips from TikTokers

Many videos are dedicated to preparing for rallies: how to dress and what to take with you.

This list is compiled by people who, apparently, have not been to rallies before. They differ from the advice that volunteers and human rights defenders write before each uncoordinated rally.

For example, one after another, Tiktokers advise taking milk with you to wash out the tear gas from the eyes. But tear gas has not been used to crack down on rallies in Russia in recent years, even if the rest of the police were very tough. Perhaps young people learned about milk from the experience of Belarusians: at the protests in Belarus, which have been taking place regularly since the summer of 2020, the police often used tear gas.

Another mistaken advice from Tiktokers is that you shouldn't take your passport with you to the rally. This advice is refuted in the same TikTok. "Friends, if you do not have a passport, you can be detained for two days to establish your identity," explains a political science student from the Higher School of Economics in his video. And he recalls that the usual term for administrative detention is three hours.

Another myth that Tiktokers have picked up in recent days is that Vladimir Putin allegedly allowed people to shoot at the rally. Someone warns about this in their videos and persuades the audience not to go, so as not to die.

And who is against it?

Some tiktokers do not understand what happened and simply express amazement that their entire feed has been drowned in protest videos. So in recent days, a popular video format has emerged: people take pictures of their amazed faces at the sight of Putin and Navalny on their TikTok.

There are also those who warn against rallies. Users overlay their videos on the same "protest" sound, for example, with the voice of Yulia Navalnaya - then, watching everything filmed with this sound, it will be possible to find their video with an alternative point of view.

"Dear little kids who want to take part in the rally. Have pity on yourself and your loved ones," the user says, confident that they will be "just grabbed," and then teenagers will have problems with the security forces: "Let adults go to the rallies, even something is rummaging around in politics. "

“I’m from Donbass and have already seen war and blood,” the user says: she and her baby are looking at the camera sadly. “I’m not for anyone! I’m against! Against war and murders.” Her account is about motherhood, and it wasn’t there before. no politics - except perhaps thanks to Putin for the payment of 5 thousand rubles to families with children, which was announced in December.

"Don't go outside! Don't shine a flashlight through the window! You will be shot!" - warns another user. And then he adds somewhat contradictory that if Navalny wins, then "Russia is over."

"Nobody will kill you: the bullets are rubber," they convince in the comments.

However, the author's arguments clearly affect the audience. "My parents do not believe that there will be a rally," some children write under the video with sad smileys: apparently, they are afraid that the "careless" parents will go out into the street and be shot.

Some commentators simply do not understand what the rally is about and why everyone is afraid of Navalny. "Well, because Navalny is from Germany, and before there was a war, everyone is afraid," - clearly underage users explain to them in the comments.

Others who disagree with the general oppositional mood do not frighten the audience, but laugh: they shoot a video about how the whole TikTok is raging now, and on January 23, five people will go out to protests.

Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya draws attention to the fact that the authorities have no consensus on what to do with social networks and "objectionable" content in them. Laws allowing to shut down social networks have been adopted, but they do not work in practice. "On the one hand, the soil begins to burn under your feet, and on the other th - there is no command for mass extinguishing, "she describes the position of officials at the sight of such a protest surge in TikTok.

“Fighting these tiktokas, videos and even the protests themselves is aimed at showing zeal in the eyes of Putin, and not curbing the protest itself. They don't care what the effectiveness is, but we will see super-fervor with great costs,” explains Stanovaya.

In her opinion, this could end badly for the protesters: "According to the style of what the authorities are doing today, I get the impression that the mood is very tough."

Roskomnadzor against

Roskomnadzor on January 20 demanded that TikTok remove information "involving minors in illegal actions."

TikTok promised to cooperate with the Russian authorities back in 2019 - after Roskomnadzor announced that it was going to search the social network for child pornography and other prohibited content.

So far, no tiktok blocking is known, but in the past, TikTok has blocked content: for example, beauty blogger Ferozu Aziz, who, under the guise of curling eyelash instructions, spoke about the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.

In 2019, the social network was accused of cooperation with the Chinese authorities - in particular, TikTok is used by the authorities of the city of Khotan, where there are several thousand Uyghurs in "re-education camps". Through the video service, officials plan to "create and demonstrate a new image of Khotan."

Children's Ombudsman in Moscow Olga Yaroslavskaya also spoke about the use of children for political purposes - and it is through social networks.

“Manipulators are hiding behind pages-bots in social networks, they know the consequences. And children usually don’t know,” she wrote on her Facebook. “They also don’t know the manipulation technologies themselves, they don’t understand how political technologists masterfully use their age psychology, don’t they see what emotional points they are pressing, so that they want to destroy and deny everything. But today they are clicking on all social networks where young people actually live, all these technologies are evident. "

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