Energy-hungry TikTok ‘cat videos’ altering the course of armed conflict in Ukraine

·2-min read
Both TikTok and munitions factories need a lot of data storage (PA Wire)
Both TikTok and munitions factories need a lot of data storage (PA Wire)

With more than an eighth of the population logging in and billions of short-form videos consumed each month, TikTok’s infrastructure needs a lot of electricity to run. Now it seems that this intense demand is affecting neighbours of its data centres — with consequences that could potentially change the course of history.

The Financial Times reports that Nammo — one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of military ammunition — is struggling to expand its largest factory in Raufoss, Norway, due to the energy requirements of a nearby data centre that lists TikTok as its main customer.

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“We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos,” Morten Brandtzæg, the chief executive of Nammo told the paper.

Prioritising data centres over ammunition-building facilities might be a pragmatic option during peace time, but Ukraine’s defence against Russian forces has seen demand swell to around 6,000 rounds per day — a figure that would usually supply a small European country’s military needs for a year.

Nammo claims that it can’t make as much ammunition as Ukraine would like, stating that the country would like that supply to increase tenfold. “We see an extraordinary demand for our products which we have never seen before in our history,” Brandtzaeg added.

With questions about TikTok’s links to the Chinese government refusing to go away, this raises interesting geopolitical questions. After all, the disruption of European arms manufacturing could be seen as a significant perk for China, whether intentional or not.

“I will not rule out that it’s not by pure coincidence that this activity is close to a defence company,” Brandtzaeg said when asked about that angle.

We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos

Morten Brandtzæg, the chief executive of Nammo

With Nammo part-owned by the Norwegian government, and national security at risk, it seems likely that a solution will be found that sidesteps energy supplier Elvia’s usual ‘first-come, first-served’ policy.

“In this special matter, we will work to secure the supply Nammo needs to go forward with their plans and be able to expand its factory,” said Per-Gunnar Sveen, from the county council of Innlandet.

But for other businesses in the Nordic countries, the ever-growing power demands of internet services — from social networks to cloud storage providers — presents serious competition with deep pockets. Northern European countries have proved appealing due to the comparatively low cost of energy and a naturally colder climate that reduces the cooling costs of data centres — which can be substantial.

With ‘free’ online entertainment and storage services expanding year by year, the competition for data centres is only going to get more intense. If decisions are made based on who can afford the space, rather than what should be prioritised for the public good, then the consequences could prove significant over the next few decades.