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TikTok and the Voice of Ukrainian Refugees

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Dr. Noam Tirosh, a lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, presents his work on TikTok and its role in both presenting and media the voices of Ukrainian refugees

1 Mar 2023
10:15 - 11:45
C417 - School of Global Studies

Dr. Noam Tirosh, lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Centre on Global Migration (CGM)
photo of noam tirosh

In the wake of Russia’s intensification of its military campaign, Ukrainians have been forced to take up arms in self-defence and fight for their liberty. Many have taken shelter in bomb shelters across the country; others have been forced to flee their homes. With more than 15 million refugees created by the conflict, the dire situation of Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers has become an urgent priority for policy makers, scholars and the wider public around the world (UNHCR, 2022). The war in Ukraine has been described as the world’s first “TikTok war”; content related to and depicting aspects of the conflict have abounded on TikTok since the beginning of hostilities, turning the social media platform into an important and particularly topical source of information about the war. In this lecture, we will focus on this unique situation, exploring how Ukrainian refugees use TikTok as a voice-enabling platform, and what can be learned about the “refugee voice” at a time when TikTok and similar digital platforms rank amongst the most influential venues for voice-making. 

As part of the lecture, we ask: (1) What is the “Ukrainian refugee voice”, as expressed on TikTok?; (2) What are the distinguishing characteristics and affordances of TikTok that enable – or disenable – the refugee voice?; and (3) How does this meeting point, between the refugee’s voice and TikTok’s affordances, influence the content of their messages? To answer these questions, we have collected videos produced by Ukrainian refugees, published on the authors’ “for-you” page between March 2022 – the month of Russia’s wholescale invasion of Ukraine – and the end of 2022. The research is still ongoing, and we expect to analyse more than 50 videos. We contend that when constructed, the refugee’s voice can serve as a tool of subjectivation for the refugee; turning them to active agents of change in situations that have been forced onto them. The main goal of our project, as such, is to highlight the interrelations between refugee voices and the means by which they are heard – in this case, TikTok.


Dr. Noam Tirosh'saward-winning research focuses on the relationship between memory and media and their relation with democracy, justice and human rights. He is the author of a score of journal articles and book chapters covering topics ranging from the European Right to be Forgotten to the memory rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel, refugees and asylum seekers, and Jews deported from Arab countries.