juicy meat #3: Alone with Vladimir Putin on TikTok

“juicy meat” is an ongoing series analyzing media content. This instalment reflects on Vladimir Putin’s TikTok presence.

Vladimir Putin on TikTok
Putin on TikTok in a Tweet within another Tweet

Putins In My Hand Thanks to China

I’ve got a new Twitter account that only follows two people: Elon Musk and a Canadian journalist. Since my timeline would be boring otherwise, Twitter crams it with topical Tweets and other filler. Yesterday I logged on and was served the above Tweet. In the Tweet a finance influencer “quote Tweets” an anonymous account that posted a TikTok video. In it, Vladimir Putin faces the camera and talks about the global financial system and the supposed diminished standing of the US Dollar.

Curious about the TikTok account that originally posted the clip, I opened the app and navigated to @president.putin.fanpage. The page has over 900,000 followers and features flattering snippets of the Russian president. More recent clips are of the straight-to-camera public statement genre and almost mimic selfie-video, partly because they are on TikTok. One thumbnail preview displays the caption “I want ordinary Western people [to] hear me”.

None of this is particularly revelatory and this is not a mis/disinfo scare-post. A few fairly obvious things are still worth noting, however. The account has a huge following but doesn’t interact at all and there’s no public manager (added context: the “bio” says it’s not an official page). Since it seems to be a simple matter of adding english captions to highlights of pre-existing video clips, occasionally with bare minimum contextualization, the account’s propaganda value to resources expended ratio is incredible. Many of the videos have millions of views.

Another thing worth noting is that TikTok is a Chinese-owned application. There’s endless talk in the current moment about Chinese-Russian relations and a Chinese firm facilitating the distribution of Russian propaganda to Western palms and eyeballs during a hot conflict seems novel.

To sum up: by logging in to a fresh Twitter account and following Elon Musk as well as the “Business and finance” vertical my attention was directed at a Putin-propaganda effort to undermine confidence in the USA financial system that bore the watermark of a Chinese-owned platform. In an unpredictable smartphone and social media instant you can end up face-to-face with a major political figure’s fount of massaged information. As far as Russia and China, it’s surprising that all this is tolerated, to the extent that it is, by the Western establishment.

Young men & YouTube, women on Instagram

Not long ago the liberal media and similarly inclined institutions were preoccupied with YouTube’s influence on young men. From this vantage, YouTube was a rightwing radicalising cesspool. Bitter young men were being brainwashed by rightwing creators who were nodes in a network of hate.

There was some truth to the overall notion but it was also too convenient. The scapegoat of the washout young man is just that. The whole story catered to a concerned parent inclined to see discrete sources of rightwing fake news as the issue of the moment. YouTube has since changed what it prioritizes and no one really talks about the whole thing anymore.

There are other dodgy focal points of online information that aren’t nearly as marketable, however.

It turns out many women (who are disproportionately anti-vax) make fulsome use of Instagram to confirm each other’s fears and resistance. Anecdotally I can confirm that this is true. From The POV of the bien pensant concerned parent this must be an equivalent threat to that of YouTube’s reactionary heyday right?

You’d have to concede the point. But so where’s the wall-to-wall coverage? It’s not marketable. Women into health and wellness trading emotional affect and codewords can’t be turned into a hate worthy God Head figure in the same way. It’s all too diffuse and there isn’t a convenient stack of scapegoats. There’s no foundation money to be had.

Linda McQuaig on the Canadian National Railway’s pioneering use of radio

“Starting in 1924, the CNR launched a dramatic innovation: radio on trains. At the time, radio was a relatively new technology. There were only a few stations, mostly located in the United States, whose signals could be heard in Canada, and only in the evening hours. Still, radio was an enormously exciting new form of entertainment that brought music -often live performances in studio- into homes hundreds of miles away.

Sir Henry was determined to make this exciting new technology part of the pleasure of train travel. There had been some earlier dabbling with radio technology by several U.S. rail lines, but no follow-up on those limited experiments. The CNR therefore became the first to overcome the considerable technological challenges and actually outfit railway cars so they could receive radio signals while in motion. On Janurary 5, 1924, the first radio-equipped transcontinental train, operated by CNR, left Montreal bound for Vancouver.

The concept proved popular. Passengers were delighted to be able to stroll to the train’s lounge car, put on a headset, and suddenly, almost magically, hear live music broadcast by a radio station somewhere out there in the dark. The addition of radio service quickly became known as an attractive aspect of travelling on CNR, and there was a noticeable shift of passengers from CPR to CNR on the well-traveled Montreal-Toronto run, which had long been dominated by CPR.

The enormous appeal of radio to the ear of a railway passenger in the 1920s is captured in an anonymous account from the CNR archives. The writer describes a scene in the observation car of a CNR train passing through the Prairies. The passengers are bored and waiting for lunch. Suddenly, the sound of organ music fills the car, grabbing their attention. The organ strains are followed by a sermon, Bible readings, and hymns broadcast live from a service in a Saskatoon church many miles away. When there is a pause in the church service to take up a collection, a passenger on the train rises, puts a five-dollar bill into a hat, and then passes the hat to the other passengers, who all contribute something. When the train pulls into Saskatoon later that day, thirty dollars are delivered to the church from the enthralled passengers.