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Days before Russian bombs fell on Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kyiv, the Ukrainian government mobilized its media strategists – knowing that the war to come would be on social media as much as on the ground.
When the war started, they were ready to attack.
Led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a gifted former comedian, Ukraine’s information warriors launched a full-scale disinformation attack of unprecedented scale and intensity.
From Zelenskyy’s selfie-style videos proving he’s still alive and well in Kyiv to Russian convoys being bombed and Ukrainian soldiers documenting threats to the enemy, the campaign ensured that invasion The Ukraine strategy and the resistance of its residents are being worked out. tracked around the world.
In the fog of war, the accuracy of social media posts and statements is difficult to verify. A viral story about Ukrainian soldiers who told a Russian warship to “go on their own” before being wiped out turned out to be not entirely true, as these soldiers were found still alive.
But Ukraine is capturing the world’s attention – and taking down an opponent seen as the world champion of disinformation.
Ukraine’s ‘online tribe’
As war became inevitable, Ukrainians were poised to flood social media with streams of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, alongside a concerted effort to reach the West through messaging services. , such as WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, the Telegram platform has been used to recruit professionals who can help with the country’s digital campaign. Dubbed Ukraine’s IT army and establish government of Ukraine, this group probes the information space for volunteers who can help edit videos, create cryptographic products, or coordinate cyberattacks on companies and public authorities of Ukraine. Russia.
“Ukraine is building an online tribe, bringing people with them on this perilous journey,” said Matt Navarra, a social media consultant and former UK government communications expert. “It is helping people really empathize and understand what the situation is like.”
Last Thursday, Western journalists were added to the official WhatsApp groups, including one run by Derzhspetszviazok, Ukraine’s special communications service. Journalists in this group were provided with official videos shot by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and instructed to update them on Facebook and Twitter in real time. In particular, these videos will soon find their way to the social networking sites of some of the world’s biggest news organizations.
“Ukraine is choosing its moments very carefully when it comes to triggering and amplifying important messages using social channels and formats – whether that be videos, selfies,” said Navarra. with the president or meme. “That, for me, is what really works so well for them.”
A Ukrainian government official who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the strategy said that its social media campaigns are “huge” and that they try to cover networks across the country. Ukraine, Russia and the whole of Europe.
“We are working non-stop,” the official said. “It is exhausting, but we are seeing our efforts pay off. The West is listening to our messages and sanctions against Russia are increasing every day.”
A New Global Foreign Policy and Big Tech Calls
For senior government officials, including the president, there has been a rapid increase in their popularity online during the crisis.
On Twitter, Zelenskyy has grown from half a million followers before the invasion to now 4.3 million won. His feed is a collage of diplomatic efforts, thanking Western leaders for their offers of help as well as updating citizens on commitments to the heads of state. nation.
Digital Minister of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, who has grown from 2,000 followers to more than 160,000, is focused on promoting some of the world’s biggest economic powers – the Big Tech platforms – to help fight the information war and prevent the spread of transmission of malicious content. One of his latest and more creative efforts was to write to the leaders of Apple and Spotify, urging them to allow artists to change their album covers to show solidarity with their plight. Ukraine.
A recent Fedorov tweet to SpaceX founder Elon Musk paid a dividend, with the business magnate responding to his call by shipping Starlink satellite internet terminals to the country. war-torn to stay connected.
Messages of War, Hope and Tragedy
Ukraine’s official Twitter profile plays more of a practical role, offering memes and messages of individual heroism or creating war hero-type characters such as “Ghost of Kyiv”- a Ukrainian air force commando who “rules the skies… [becoming] a nightmare for invading Russian planes”.
But on Instagram is where the Ukrainian president has the widest reach, with more than 13 million followers. Publishing nearly 80 posts since Kyiv was first bombed on Thursday, Zelenskyy’s account, which combines posts in English and Ukrainian, regularly hits more than 1 million likes – citing meetings his latest newspaper with professional collaboration photos, such as a recent example of Ukraine’s president and officials signing the country’s application to join the EU.
The official Ukrainian account complements these with highly emotional posts designed for an international public, often display civilian infrastructure destroyed by Russian shells and appeal from children and pensioners. “The goal here is to show the world what we’re going through,” one official said. “That we’re dealing with the reality of a human[itarian] crisis.”
Set of house facades
On Facebook, the Ukrainian approach is aimed at a more domestic audience. Zelenskyy’s account is particularly active, posting an average of more than five videos a day since the war broke out – many of them clips from briefings aimed at updating Ukrainians and keeping spirits up. God high.
Other Cabinet ministers appear to have taken a similar approach, with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba create posts to boost morale, from personalized updates with live video to flashy infographics.
This complements the government’s YouTube coverage, where the “President’s Office” account regularly posts handpicked clips from Zelenskyy and other ministers’ press conferences – quickly gaining traction. tens of thousands of views.
The battle has become real over Ukraine’s online records. The more the West represses the Kremlin’s presence on Western social networks, the more successful the country will be in proving a coherent narrative around the realities of war.
Dealing with this is Russia’s strategy in the information space, which has proven not to be bad enough.
“The very conservative, old-fashioned, dry and almost corporate Russian use of social channels is completely ineffective,” says Navarra. “The world sees them as the enemy.”
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