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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Social Media War

Emily McQueen

Staff Writer

Image via the New York Times

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Most of us got the news– not from a newspaper, radio, or television– but from Instagram, Tiktok, or Snapchat.

I recall seeing videos of Russian soldiers marching toward the Ukrainian border on my For You page before the War had officially begun. Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine is being documented and shared on social media on a grander scale than any previous or current global conflict. In one way, it has spread further than WWI and WWII, considering that anyone who has access to a phone (about half the global population) or a computer can watch the violence, comment on it, and offer financial support, no matter where they are on the planet (excluding state-censored regimes). This article will provide an overview of the history of wartime media and will investigate how social media has affected this one.

The first “media war”, the 1898 Spanish-American War, was the first to be precipitated by the media, mostly by newspaper articles or correspondences. WWI was photographed and filmed, and by WW2 almost every North American and Western European home had a radio, the cheapest and most popular media outlet. Technology was thus used for wartime propaganda, the diffusion of information, and calls to the population to join wartime efforts. In 1955, the Vietnam war broke out, which would grow to have immense TV coverage by 1965. According to Forbes magazine, in the year 1968, 600 accredited journalists were covering the war for U.S. wire services, radio, and television networks. Every day at 5 pm, there would be daily briefings on the war put on by the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office. In 2011, the Arab Spring was somewhat discussed on social media as many other wars to come; However, because social media platforms have now grown larger (in 2022, Facebook has tripledthribbled its average use) this war’s social media scope is larger than any other’s. Unlike ever before, audiences and civilians can now participate in news coverage instead of it being reserved solely for professional reporters, especially in the West. This has also come with a normalization of using social media as a political tool.

For peace activists and those wanting to expose the horrors of war to the world, social media is the most useful weapon at their disposal. A peace activist in the Ukrainian city of Lviv posted a photograph of 109 baby strollers in a square surrounded by rubble to commemorate the children killed by Russian soldiers. The image quickly spread to millions. Other viral videos showcase a little girl singing in a shelter and a cellist performing on a street full of debris and damaged buildings. In the New York Times article ‘Like a Weapon’: Ukraine’s Use of Social Media To Stir Resistance, Anastasiya Magerramova, the 27-year-old press secretary for the Okhmatdyt Ppediatric Hhospital in Kyiv, discusses her experience sleeping in the ward and working exhausting hours while constantly photographing and filming the sufferings of civilians. Because parts of some Ukrainian territory are inaccessible or hardly accessible to journalists, Magerramova believes “It’s going to be even more important that people document and share their direct experiences of the war and that concerned audiences don’t look away.”

We cannot ignore the downsides of social media use as war-time media, seeing as information can be misleading, polarizing, or even completely false. Misinformation can be unintentional, sometimes in the form of memes, tales, or urban legends individuals find interesting. While these are not particularly harmful, I would still add a disclaimer or check factual sources before reposting. There is also intentional misinformation, which is propelled by both government and non-government users. This form of propaganda can be harmful and cause further hatred between populations. Putin's promise to ‘de-Nazify Ukraine’, a country that elected a Jewish president, or any claims that ‘Ukraine has a high number of Nazis’, would be an example of intentional misinformation to dissuade support for the country. Deepfake videos of both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been appearing on the internet at frequent rates. These would also fall under intentional misinformation. Compared to the 2014 invasion of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, Russia has engaged in media warfare to a smaller extent, because Moscow attempts to completely deny the extent of the war instead of putting out propaganda in support of it, although some accounts do put verified Ukrainian civilian accounts into question.

To avoid misinformation, I would recommend further researching the information you are exposed to on your feed by comparing it to reputable news sources that fact-check and confirm stories before circulating them.

Social media holds much more power than older, more traditional forms of media, as it allows civilians to document their own lives and allows anybody, professional or not, to immediately engage with and spread information. But when any platform holds the power to sway a war, we must account for the danger of false news, which is curated to cause outrage and fear.



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