“The fog of war” is an old expression that refers to the chaos and confusion of battle—when the big picture blurs, when it’s impossible for anyone to have a clear sense of what’s happening beyond the nearest foxhole or gun turret. It remains a problem despite 21st-century communication and surveillance technologies. In fact, modern wars create all new problems, and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine well into its third month, we now have to grapple with “the fog of TikTok.”
Almost as soon as the first Russian missiles landed in Ukraine, people began speaking of the attack as the “first TikTok war.” Civilians in the war zone began posting videos and livestreams of explosions and tanks rumbling by. For many people, including journalists—and perhaps even foreign intelligence agencies—TikTok became one of the primary sources of information on the war.
The platform has been best known for goofy dance videos and perky book reviews. You could say the war has prompted TikTok to grow up. (Not that there’s anything wrong with goofy dance videos and perky book reviews.) But there’s a downside. There’s always a downside.
The Russian government and other entities began flooding the platform with propaganda and disinformation. Scammers, some hoping to divert donations meant for victims of the war, posted fake livestreams using news clips from previous conflicts or even footage lifted from video games, repurposed with new sound effects. Just weeks into the war, according to the BBC, one account full of fake videos had been viewed almost 30 million times.
Given all that, what’s a mere socially conscious influencer, caught in the crossfire with several million followers, to do?
Back in March, the White House convened a Zoom conference with 30 prominent TikTokers, who received briefings about the war and U.S. policy toward Ukraine from Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Matt Miller, a communications advisor to the National Security Council. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out the latest” about Ukraine, Rob Flaherty, the White House’s director of digital strategy, told the group, “so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source.”
Many people criticized the meeting. Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, made fun of President Joe Biden for asking “teenagers to do his job.” But as Kahlil Greene, 21, a former Yale student body president who has more than half a million followers on TikTok for his video essays on Black culture, told the Washington Post, “People in my generation get all our information from TikTok.” He said he wasn’t surprised the White House reached out to him.
Neither was Ellie Zeiler, an 18-year-old San Diegan, who has 10.6 million followers for her posts in the more traditional TikTok vein of dancing and wearing cute outfits. (She became well-known mainly because another TikToker, Charli D’Amelio, said they looked alike.) “I’m here to relay the information in a more digestible manner to my followers,” Zeiler told the Washington Post. “I would consider myself a White House correspondent for Gen Z.”
Unfortunately, TikTok remains a pretty foggy venue. According to the BBC, the platform is “playing catch up” compared to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter when it comes to policing false or misleading material, though TikTok “insists it has stepped up its efforts to combat misinformation.” If you’re curious, several legacy news-media sites have lists of reliable Ukrainian social media accounts. For the moment, however, click carefully. —Bruce Handy
Did you expect your Labrador Retriever to be sociable, only to find he was quite the opposite? Ever meet a mysteriously friendly Pitbull who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Well, a study has revealed that dogs’ personalities don’t actually depend on their breeds.
The origins of this myth date back to the late 19th century, when Queen Victoria still ruled England. At the time, English dog owners were beginning to take their pups to dog shows. Soon enough, owners wanted to be able to choose how their pets looked. That’s when people started breeding dogs—selecting two dogs with, say, extra floppy ears to mate in order to ensure they got a puppy with extra floppy ears.
Now dubbed the “Victorian Explosion,” this period gave rise to the dog breeds we know today. It also created dog stereotypes—chihuahuas are cranky, Rottweilers are aggressive.
Curious about those clichés, researchers at the University of Massachusetts medical school looked into the similarities between dogs of the same breed. To do this, they asked nearly 19,000 dog owners to fill out questionnaires about their pups’ personalities. Surprisingly, the study revealed that only 9 percent of dogs’ behaviors could be explained by their breed.
In the published study, the researchers wrote that “dog breed is generally a poor predictor of individual behavior and should not be used to inform decisions relating to selection of a pet dog.” Dog owners “should pay much less attention to all the stories about what their dog’s breed ancestry says about their behavior and personality,” Dr. Elinor Karlsson, a co-author of the study, told The Guardian.
Even so, “there are some [behaviors] that are connected to [certain] breeds more than others,” Karlsson added. Howling is more prevalent among beagles than other types of dogs, for instance, and Labradors enjoy swimming more than spaniels and collies.
And some types of dog suffer from worse health issues than others. Take French Bulldogs. While their flat faces are cute, they tend to suffer from breathing issues, and their life span is just five years. (The good news is that breeding Frenchies with non-flat-nosed dogs can help improve the health of future bulldogs.)
But significant traits—like how aggressive a dog is—has more to do with a dog’s owner than it does with a dog’s breed. Karlsson suggests that owners “pay attention to the dog sitting in front of them.”
So, AIR MAIL Pilot reader, if you’re considering adopting a new dog, make sure you meet them first. —Elena Clavarino
Since Miya Cech booked her first job, a modeling gig, at just four years old, she’s been working steadily. Now 15, she has the poise—and résumé—of someone twice her age.
Miya, who is originally from Tokyo, but grew up in Northern California, had her first acting audition on her eighth birthday. It was for a small part in the CBS police drama Hawaii Five-O, which aired from 2010 to 2020. She got the part, and those brief weeks of filming changed her life. On set, she fell in love with the idea of “getting to walk in someone else’s shoes,” she tells AIR MAIL Pilot.
From modeling jobs to spots on commercials, TV shows, and films, the roles haven’t stopped coming. After 11 years in the business, Miya has landed key parts in major movies, like Fox’s 2018 dystopian thriller The Darkest Mind and Netflix’s 2019 science-fiction drama Rim of the World.
Her latest film, Marvelous and the Black Hole, just hit theaters. In it, Miya plays Sammy Ko, a delinquent Asian American teenager facing turbulence at home. She strikes up a friendship with Margot, a middle-aged party magician played by Rhea Perlman. Centered on the unlikely duo, the film has wit, humor, and heart. It’s reminiscent of the 1971 cult classic Harold and Maude. (AIR MAIL Pilot suggests asking your parents about that one.)
“As an actor—and as an Asian American actor especially—I see a lot of roles that come through that are not that diverse,” Miya explains. “I was just so thrilled and just proud to see a role that was unique, and to tell a story with real raw emotion behind it. It’s one person’s story, but so relatable for everybody.”
With the confidence and tenacity of someone much older, Miya is well-suited for such an emotional part—and a tough industry. “You’re going to hear a lot of “no’s,” and often times it’s not your fault,” she says. “The best thing you can do is get back up and try again and keep pushing.”
Miya has some words of encouragement for aspiring actors: “There is going to be that role that you get and it’s going to be just absolutely magical.” —Bridget Arsenault