February 24, 2021 went down in history as one of the darkest dates of the 21st century. On that day, Russia invaded Ukraine under the banner of the disarmament and disarmament of a state that in no way provoked military intervention. At the time of writing this article, the war on our eastern border, from which I am only a few dozen kilometers away, has been going on for more than two months. What has changed during this time? First of all, we believed that we, the Poles, could be a truly wonderful nation whenever the situation required it. In addition to providing humanitarian, financial and military assistance, we have achieved something completely unprecedented. Since that tragic date, we have accepted less than 3 million refugees, although by no means were we prepared for that. By welcoming people fleeing war on our rooftops and offering them the most necessary things, including food, clothing and also proximity and a kind word, we have successfully tested humanity in an exemplary way. So, we can all thank each other at this point.
In this material, I would like to take a look at how the war is covered not in the media, but in social media. This is where confirmed information, misinformation or propaganda comes in first. Thanks to social media, the war was reported with unprecedented brutality and realism. Of course, it is known that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not the only war going on in the world at the moment. I remember well as a child, when I would watch TV reports from Afghanistan or Iraq, and since then, many bad things have happened in Syria, not to mention the precarious situation between Israel and Palestine. The events in Ukraine, thanks to their close proximity and the ability to follow them on social media, are a completely different experience for those watching. Since I was alive, the war wasn’t very close, unfortunately in the literal sense of the word.
Let me begin with what is especially important in the reports from the front, the authors of which were not the media, but the soldiers and civilians who had just found themselves in the center of events. As mentioned before, Thanks to the material posted on social media, we see the war as it really is. On Twitter and TikToku or Facebook, we can easily find videos in which you hear sirens calling for city dwellers to immediately go to the shelter. Sometimes it just ends in fear. Unfortunately, in many cases the following shots actually show the damage from bombing raids or missile attacks, the sounds of explosions, and the nearby clouds of black smoke. This is how war is perceived by those who live their lives next to you, at your fingertips.
The most brutal are the soldiers’ accounts, where we observe the actions of anti-aircraft defense, direct attacks on enemy vehicles or looting. In addition to the astonishing explosions and the accompanying cries of joy, we also see a lot of suffering for the victims – not only the dead or physically injured, but also those who survived the trauma standing next to such tragic events. When I am alive, I have seen nothing as brutal as the shots that followed the attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk, full of defenseless people. Films of the residents of Mariupol or the areas from which the Russian army withdrew as a result of the regroupment breaks the heart in two. It seemed that the person who had seen the true picture of the war with his own eyes would do his best to prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, as we see with our own eyes, it doesn’t always work that way.
And the circumstances of the war prove that Social media can also become an effective tool for spreading propaganda. As you know, what goes to the community, but also to the soldiers who participate in combat, is of great importance in maintaining morale. More than one armed conflict in world history has proven that an army of low morale fights markedly worse than the motive of fighting for every inch of land. Likewise, in the case of society, the support for hostilities, or the lack thereof, depends on how they are presented and on what exactly attracts the attention of the general public. The war on the territory of Ukraine has proven that the warring parties must also confront each other on the Internet, especially on social media.
Government institutions in Ukraine and Russia tend to present current events in such a way as to win as many supporters as possible from all over the world. Both sides are very eager to win support not only among their own citizens, but all over the world. Convincing the public of the correctness of one side or the other seems to be one of the most important aspects of the war, perhaps determining how it will end. It turns out that materials distributed in this way acquire huge ranges. Everyone who tries to monitor social media has probably seen a video of destroying enemy equipment with distinct background music. It also echoed the entrances of the Russian embassies, in which attempts were made to explain the causes of the war. NaturallyBoth sides have made great efforts to ensure that only the positive message on one side and the negative message on the other side reach those interested. Well, that’s how war propaganda works, which, like it or not, has had to adapt to work in a whole new era. The era of social media.
Let’s go back for a moment to February 24, the first day of the war. Although in Polish tradition this day, in 2022, was to be celebrated as Fat Thursday, it was an exceptionally bitter celebration. Hardly anyone thinks how many cakes or other sweets you have already eaten, most likely most of them did not feel it, limiting themselves to this symbolic dessert. Poles eagerly followed the news on radio, television and the Internet, wanting to know what was happening at a particular moment and desperately searching for an answer to the most important question at the time: are we safe?
Social anxiety is the perfect breeding ground for misinformation. On the first day of the war, social media was filled with reports that gas stations would soon run out of fuel. How did it end? Everyone who tried to refuel that day in the afternoon and evening hours found it out. Many stations ran out of fuel not because of supply problems, but because people under the influence of misinformation started stocking up in case of availability problems in the future. Some gas station owners decided to take advantage of the situation, artificially raising prices, hoping to make a quick profit. And all this is due only to media misinformation.
The following days brought more finger-sucking messages. Several Twitter and Facebook users wrote about the Dantesque scenes that were supposed to take place in Przemyśl. How was the truth? According to official announcements by the police, the reception of refugees was smooth, with the exception of isolated incidents. Unfortunately, from that moment on, the strength of the misinformation only increased. On social media, completely new accounts are being created in Avalanche, which distribute messages aimed at making Poles start to fear and abandon their support for Ukraine. This phenomenon intensified to such an extent that the third alert level was announced in cyberspace across the country – CHARLIE-CRP, and Polish government institutions launched an intense fight against fake news and disinformation.
Everything depends on us
Although, as I mentioned, hostilities are taking place in many places around the world, it is precisely the situation in Ukraine that I dealt with in a special way. The rest, probably like most of us. It’s very hard to come to terms with what’s going on, especially when you get never-before-seen images even while lazily browsing social media, which is evidence of the ongoing carnage. The material posted by the people of Ukraine and the soldiers fighting there opens their eyes to the war in a very different way, certainly deeper and closer than anything I’ve seen so far.
How should we act in this situation? I won’t say when I write that We must help as much as we can. In fact, over the past two months we’ve proven that we can do just that. We can also effectively counter advertising and misinformation on social media. Like? Simply, by checking sources and not repeating unverified information. Just this and a lot.