Throughout time, our means of communication have greatly shifted. From letters, to TV’s, to smartphones, we now have access to an entire library of information in the palm of our hand. Not only do we have access to endless information, but we also have access to news about any country from anywhere in the world. Any question, any concern, any thought can be answered within seconds simply by typing the question into a search engine. In addition to that, social media has drastically changed the way we communicate and the way we receive news about certain things, especially worldly affairs. An article by Pew Research Center states that more than 50% of American’s get their news online, mostly through social media. Throughout history, governments have always been looking for the best ways to gain support from their citizens, specifically in times of war. Many years ago newspapers, posters, flyers, and appointed spokesmen gave citizens the information they needed. However, in an age where flyers are ignored, posters have little significance, and many people have yet to pick up a newspaper, how does the government gain that same support? Considering that almost all of the world’s news ends up on social media, for the governments, that’s a great place to start.
More of the world’s governments have moved away from traditional tactics and have moved towards using the internet as a source of propaganda. A recent example of this is the Russa-Ukraine war. According to an article by MIT management, the Russia-Ukraine war has been described as “the world’s first TikTok war.” Users from all over world have been spreading information in real-time about the war and its effects. Citizens are using social media to rally overall public opinion. The largest difference between social media and other news sources is its immediacy. A video can be recorded and uploaded in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds. In conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war, social media can be a useful weapon. However, it is well known that propaganda is often exaggerated or orchestrated to favor one side, social media is no exception to this. Russia has longed spread misinformation about Ukraine, mostly through the internet. In 2014, a Russian internet agency, which was a network of paid internet trolls, spread misinformation about Ukraine. Pro-Russian accounts have circulated disinformation and continue to do so to this day. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spawned a constant stream of online content.
Platform by platform, these are some of the different ways both Russia and Ukraine are utilizing social media,
The war between Russia and Ukraine actually started on Twitter. President’s Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky fought their own war through twitter posts. This was a similar situation to the election of 2016 when Hillary Clinton and Donald trump each tried to sway public opinion to their side. Social media can not only be used at propaganda to gain support in war, but also to gain support from a political side.
The following are comments from Gen Z adults, teenagers, and tweens that were left on Vladimir Putin’s Instagram account
“Vladdy Daddy please no war.”
“Mercury’s in retrograde, Vladdy this isn’t you.”
“No war pls.”
“I know you’re in a silly goofy mood but please don’t start WW3.”
“Don’t do that!”
“Starting war is overrated, I suggest an art project instead!”
As the tensions were rising in Europe and the United States was preparing to send troops to support Ukraine, Gen Z took another approach – Simply asking President Putin to just not start war. Whether it was effective or not, this approach was impossible before social media. People are able to directly communicate with government leaders simply through a comment on Instagram. This in of itself is a form of propaganda, a way to gain one sides favor.
TikTok has been the center of attention since the start of the war itself. Ukraine soldiers and citizens have posted thousands of videos and pictures of what is happening within the country right now. Some of these videos include dead soldiers, buildings on fire, and protests. While these videos are more on the violent side, there are also other more lighthearted videos. A recent TikTok showed an outfitted Ukrainian soldier moonwalking to a song in an empty field. Thousands of comments were left on this video, most of which were “Be safe out there.” Another video included a girl documenting her daily life in a bomb shelter. Other videos had to do with a “typical day in Ukraine” and would then show a building that had been bombed. These videos are internet jokes and deadly serious documents at the same time.
These war videos speak to social media users in their own language. The videos that go viral can also serve as a powerful form of publicity for the Ukrainian cause. On TikTok, rather than being seen as distance citizens, Ukrainians appear to viewers as fellow tiktokers who know the same references, understand the same jokes, and listen to the same music. The content of the clips and the safe digital spaces they’ve created, give off a sense of intimacy that traditional journalism lacks. This is how the internet can be used as a form of propaganda, to gain one sides favor simply through a video. Governments use the internet as a tool, and while this propaganda includes misinformation as well, it is still an effective way to gain support from their citizens.
As world citizens, we must be aware that the information we are receiving online is often skewed to generate an emotional response that pushes public opinion to one side or the other. As we vote, make moral decisions, character judgements, and collectively choose the direction our nation heads, we should always be asking, “Is this information accurate? And has it been delivered in a way that is factual, or purposefully designed to generate an emotional response?”
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