The War Will Be Televised
Updated: Mar 12, 2022
Right now for the first time since World War 2 there is a ground war occurring in Europe. Like many wars before it there will undoubtedly be many causalities, too many of which will be innocent bystanders. However, this conflict between Ukraine and Russia is different from any other confrontation due to the prevalence of smart phones and social media in the effected areas.
Almost 50% of the Ukrainian population uses social media. When compared to Afghanistan, a hotbed of political unrest and war for the last 20 years, where only 10% of the population use any social media platforms you begin to get the idea of how much more likely it is to see posts about the war trickling online.
For example, I woke up this morning to the post to your right on Reddit, specifically on the message board r/TrueOffMyChest, where a young father describes what very well be his last night in his home with his family.
Shortly after this hundreds of photos and videos of the attack on Ukraine and it's aftermath began appearing across social media. One woman was photographed as she was leaving the rubble of what had once been here apartment. A small child was recorded getting caught in a missile strike. Fires, explosions, and death has been spreading across Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and WhatsApp all day.
Posts of property damage, death, and the march of militaries across Ukraine are not just fodder for the voyeur in each of us. The Ukrainian government began spreading messages across Twitter earlier today warning supporters not to share information on their own troop movements while at the same time calling on them to post any movement by the Russians.
If Ukraine is calling on its citizens to report troop movements on social media than it would be safe to assume that they are tracking said posts. We can assume that, if Ukraine is following social media and using it for military intelligence, so too much the Russians.
A Battle For the Hearts and Minds
From the time of the Romans to today generals and conquers have understood and appreciated the value of a receptive population. Whether we look at Caesar taking cities that surrendered as soon as he approached or Churchill encouraging the British to fight on in World War 2, morale is a key part of any military campaign.
As such it cannot come as a surprise to anyone that both the Russians and the Ukrainians are looking to win the support of the world, their own populations, and their opponents populations through coordinated messaging campaigns across social media. Ukraine, for example, has begun sharing political cartoons such as the below equating Putin with Hitler. Meanwhile Russian backed media has been posting pro-Putin, pro-Russian content for some time.
No one knows how the current crisis will end. It is clear, however, that no matter the outcomes social media is playing an important part in the recording of events and in the events themselves.