• Elena Pilipets University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The
  • Marloes Geboers University of Amsterdam
  • Tom Divon The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Marcus Bösch University of Münster
  • Dariia Delavar-Kasmai University of Amsterdam
  • Marc Tuters University of Amsterdam
  • Boris Noordenbos University of Amsterdam
  • Richard Rogers University of Amsterdam
  • Xiaoke Zhang Renmin University of China




TikTok, WarTok, Sound Memes, Memetic Warfare, Digital Methods


This panel investigates the networked soundscapes of memetic warfare on TikTok, a platform crucial in mediating the ongoing war in Ukraine since February 2022. Introduced to the public as a unique form of war programming during the first week of Russia's full-scale military invasion (Mobilio 2022), WarTok—a portmanteau of ‘TikTok’ and ‘war’—signifies "the war of super-empowered individuals armed only with smartphones" (Friedmann 2022). Producing headlines such as "TikTok's Amazing Russian-Ukraine War Videos," (Figure 1) the term necessitates critical and ethical scrutiny, not only for its sensationalist stance but also for the collapse of contexts it entails. Integrated into a platform that thrives on remixing, WarTok seamlessly intertwines on-the-ground war reporting with war propaganda—an aspect explored across all panel contributions through the lens of music. Networked Soundscapes The choice for sound as the primary step in our exploration not only derives from the platform’s logic of content creation, it also acknowledges music’s affective impact and its historical role in propaganda (Thompson & Biddle 2013). Music on TikTok serves as both an affective mediator and a highly templatable networker. Recent studies highlight the templatability of TikTok sounds, offering insights into content creators' attention-grabbing techniques (Abidin & Kaye 2021), logics of trend dilution (Bainotti et al., 2022), issue-specific remix cultures (Primig et al. 2023), and infrastructural meme collection (Rogers & Giorgi 2023). Aural linkages between templates can intersect with other platform-native modalities of expression, producing networked soundscapes. A soundscape, as we approach it by leaning into TikTok’s logic of indexing “listed” and “original” sounds, foregrounds audio as the main memetic stratifier, opening up different paths for navigating content (Geboers et al., forthcoming). Hashtags and sounds, for example, can turn into a source of mutual amplification or may remain disengaged even when united through technical means (Pilipets 2023). Feeding into contested attentional dynamics of digital media (Boler & Davis 2021), propaganda by means of TikTok sharing takes on a new dimension in a highly contested space, which is said to “raise memes to the level of infrastructure” (Zulli & Zulli 2021). Memetic Warfare Often driven by a cynical hunt for eyeballs, memetic warfare on social media taps into humor and mockery, inviting playful participation (Divon 2022), channeling disinformation (Bösch 2023), and using agitainment to captivate publics beyond the explicitly political (Tuters and Noordenbos forthcoming). In the context of war propaganda, memes become central agents of partisan bonding through recognizable templates and inscribed in-group cues (Arkenbout & Scherz 2022). TikTok music expands the toolbox of crafting memes, opening up new venues of boundary work and populist instrumentalization (Boichak & Hoskins 2022). TikTok is renowned for its ability to implant short video earworms, perceived as stickier than complete songs (Vizcaíno-Verdú & Abidin 2022). Some attribute this phenomenon to the cognitive principle that human memory retains unfinished tasks more effectively than completed ones, generating affective tension (Carson 2022). Walter J. Ong’s “secondary orality”, a concept revived by Venturini (2022), is one way to address this tension in online spaces where written words often become spoken words and where evanescence is ingrained into the logic of engagement. Foregrounding the memetic function of TikTok, the panel sets out to explore how the ultra-nationalist landscape of Russian WarTok and the tactics of pro-Ukrainian hijacking intertwine in a complex ecology of imitation and attention hijacking. THE SOUND OF DISINFORMATION: TIKTOK, COMPUTATIONAL PROPAGANDA AND THE INVASION OF UKRAINE Tom Divon and Marcus Bösch “ДОБРОГО ВЕЧОРА WHERE ARE YOU FROM”: MEMETIC REVERSAL, CULTURAL APPROPRIATION, AND SOUND HIJACKING Daria Delavar-Kasmai AMBIENT PROPAGANDA: THE DARK REFRAIN OF WARTOK Marc Tuters and Boris Noordenbos WHAT IF THEY ATTACK? КАТЮША AND THE COUNTERMOBILIZATION OF SOUND ON WARTOK Elena Pilipets and Marloes Geboers AMBIGUOUS STANCE-TAKING AND OPPOSITIONAL SOUND PUBLICS ON DOUYIN DURING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR Richard Rogers and Xiaoke Zhang




How to Cite

Pilipets, . E. ., Geboers, M., Divon, T., Bösch, M., Delavar-Kasmai, D., Tuters, M., … Zhang, X. (2023). WARTOK: NETWORKED SOUNDSCAPES OF MEMETIC WARFARE. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2023i0.13532