The Hyperreal Motherland: Russia makes TikTok a weapon of war.
In the post-Stalin Soviet Union, everyone had a problem. The economy was dying, trade partners were bailing, America had won the race to the moon and Czechoslovakia briefly tried to escape.
By the time the scale of the economic stagnation became clear to those inside Gosplan, it became easier to simply cook the numbers, creating a society where even data was subjective. Whilst the numbers existed, they were faked. For example, in 1980, 96% of Soviet women were employed.
And whilst economic data did show a decline in various key metrics (namely the reduction in economic growth from, the real numbers were likely made worse by a costly and ultimately botched 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
The government blamed workers for not being disciplined enough. The workers blamed the government for misusing public money.
Whilst everyone inside the USSR knew firsthand the economy and the Union itself was crumbling, it slowly became accepted that, as there was no desire or capability for radical reform, the “fake” nation of prosperity, peace and power was real.
In effect, the 273.8 million population of the Soviet Union lived in a hyperreal mirage; a terminally paradoxical state where grand military parades obscured rotting tower blocks, masses of jobless youths and a lack of skilled workers. Except there was no uproar and no mass protest, instead life went on. Forever.
Mikhail Gorbachev brought a breath of imagination to the Soviet state. The introduction of perestroika rules, an economic defibrillator that would jolt the Soviet Union back to trading worldwide, opened the floodgates for a newly-free press to trash the Soviet state, policies and way of living.
‘Glasnost’, the rule of transparency and openness, meant for the first time Soviets saw beyond the liminal boundaries of the state-controlled hyperreality and had something to believe in: change.
By December 1991, every nation had dissented from the Soviet Union to pursue its own destiny. Gorbachev, an emperor without a kingdom, who’s defibrillation policies fired the pistol on the union’s collapse, dissolved the entire bloc.
But what was verifiably real about the Soviet Union was that, once the stagnating economy came financially unmanageable, it was thought better to manage the whole of society, and create a trance where despite the firsthand experience of 273 million people, everything looked normal – even maybe real.
The idea of creating a hyperreal state has remained in Russia for some time. Vladimir Putin’s former senior advisor Vladislav Surkov made a career out of confusing his boss’ opponents. Surkov, a former art dealer, would sponsor anti-Putin groups using state money, only to make it public knowledge he had done so, confusing everyone to the point the anti-Putin group’s ideas were delegitimised. Besides, what if they were actors, or another facet of the state?
Last week, Russia reintroduced the 2014 theory of “non-linear war,” another Surkov idea that the ultimate aim of warfare was not to win, but to retain power through confusing your opponents into a paranoid fear of everyone and everything. A fake tiktok video of Russian actors perpetrating to have been shot by Ukrainian soldiers could have triggered a full-scale invasion. World War One started over less.
The video was fake, but it was posted to TikTok as if it were real.
In this regard, and to the untrained eye, the video was real. Ukrainian soldiers did kill Russians.
Social media is a platform almost designed for hyperreality in every conceivable way, and if the ultimate Russian goal is a “non-linear” war, they have the ultimate experience in managing entire nations like the intricate pieces of art Surkov once bought and sold.
They just better make sure their economy can handle it.