The impact of social media on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Auburn University professors weigh in

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Whether it’s Twitter, TikTok or Instagram, people around the world can see images of Ukraine’s front lines at their fingertips. It’s a war where people get real-time updates from real people in the midst of the conflict. According to professors in the political science department at Auburn University, social media is a powerful tool in shaping the global perception of war.

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, Russian President Vladimir Putin is cracking down on his country’s last independent media. This week, Russia’s parliament passed a law criminalizing media outlets that disseminate information that opposes the state’s war narrative.

However, Ukraine appears to be winning the “information war” both at home and around the world. Images of fathers leaving their families at the border and returning to the front to fight; couples exchanging vows only to grab guns to defend their country together… these stories shared via social media shape the narrative of the conflict.

“I think when you generate sympathy abroad, it has a direct effect on the practical support you receive,” says Dr. Peter White, assistant professor in the department of political science at Auburn University. For example, if voters in western democracies like the United States, like Germany, like the United Kingdom see what is happening in Ukraine, especially see it through Ukrainian eyes, they are very likely to lobby on their own governments to support the Ukrainians.

People are now using creative ways to circumvent restrictions. Google and TripAdvisor have now disabled restaurant reviews in Russia after people flooded the sites with protests against the Russian invasion.

“Whatever information we can get in Russia, whether it’s radio signals, satellite images or any kind of social media that might sneak through the censors,” says Dr Matthew Clary, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Auburn. “Russia, they ban all these things, but their control is not as good as, say, North Korea or China. They are a bit new to cutting media and Internet access. It’s a new kind of authoritarianism, and they’re not particularly good at it. So there will be ways for us to get in.

Russia’s restrictions may impact how Russians view the war right now, but as Dr. White says, information always has a way out.

“Russians who get their news only through state-controlled media have a sort of inaccurate view of how the conflict is going,” says Dr White. “Not to be frank, but the body bags are starting to come home. I think there was a historically very powerful movement during the Chechnya war in the 1990s of soldiers’ mothers who were very distressed about the fate of their 18- and 19-year-old conscripted sons. So I think things like that will be very difficult for the Russian government to control. »

The US State Department this week issued a statement on Russia’s media crackdown, condemning Putin’s actions.

“The Russian people did not choose this war. Putin did. They have the right to know of the death, suffering and destruction inflicted by their government on the Ukrainian people. The Russian people also have the right to know the human cost of this senseless war for their own soldiers.

US State Department

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