Digital democracy Ukraine

Flashes from our social media monitoring of the war in Ukraine

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is monitoring Ukrainian and Russian social media to provide an understanding of online public discourse around the war in Ukraine. The monitoring allows us to analyse political debates and perceptions of developments related to the war. 

Aside from our regular in-depth reports, which touch on topics such as perceptions of Ukraine’s allies, political leaders and political pluralism -accessible here- we also provide flash data analysis of breaking developments to offer further insight.

Flash 3 – Americans debate Russian nuclear threat during 2022 midterm elections - Two camps

The Russian nuclear threat featured prominently on Twitter debates during the US midterm elections. Our analysis of 75,062 Tweets that mention “nuclear war”, “Ukraine” and “Russia” between 7 and 16 October revealed two distinct groups of opinion:    

  1. Group 1 opposes negotiations with Russia and perceives the risk of a nuclear confrontation to be limited. Among the most often cited persons are publicist David Frum (tweet), former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul (tweet), and the group “Republicans Against Trumpism” (tweet).   
  2. Group 2 criticised the US administration, arguing that it risks ed sparking a nuclear war with its continued to support to Ukraine's efforts. Tweets in this group advocate for a peace deal with Russia. These voices include individuals such as the far-right Congress Representative Paul Gosar (tweet), who has expressed support for conspiracy theories in the past, and messages that seem to be written by bot accounts (example tweet).  

The nodes in the network are authors of the tweets. “Citizen Free Press” is a site offering low-quality news, masquerading as an authoritative news media (the site has little information on its editorial policies). The connections between accounts are retweets.     

Flash 2 – Ukrainian vs Russian Reactions on the Telegram Channels in the aftermath of the explosion on the Crimean Bridge and missile strikes against Ukrainian cities 

The explosion on the Kerch Straight bridge on 8 October and the systematic Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities on 10 October prompted many responses from bloggers and curated Telegram channels. DRI examined the reactions on two popular Telegram channels of both sides: “Ukraine 24/7” (808 025 subscribers) and the Russian state journalist and propagandist, Margarita Simonyan (509 015 subscribers).  

The analysis revealed the ping pong reactions between the subscribers of both channels. 

Simonyan’s laconic “And?” comment on Telegram triggered reactions demanding to find the culprit, as well as calls for a strong response. The responses on the Ukrainian channel celebrate the explosion of a bridge that connects Russia and Crimea. 

Following a series of Russian strikes in Ukranian cities, the pro-war site reacts to Simonyan’s “And here is the answer” mostly with expressions of excitement. Though some comments also raised the issue of the civilian casualties and deaths of average citizens, indicating limited dissent. Meanwhile, responses to Чат 24/7, avoid referring to the attack and focus on responding directly to Simonyan with insults and anger.  

Some comments in Telegram channels may originate from inauthentic actors, such as paid trolls. 

Flash 1 - Russians turn to opposition channels after Kremlin announces a partial mobilisation 

DRI examined the most popular Telegram groups used to organize anti-government protests shortly after Putin announced a mobilization of army reservists to be sent to East Ukraine’s front. The analysis revealed that the mobilization prompted many Russians to turn to opposition channels, such as Spring Movement, Feminist Antiwar Resistance and 1ADAT. Lesser-known channels, such as Uto Dagestan, have also risen in popularity as a result of the call to arms. 

DRI analysed the most active channels (those with over 10.000 subscribers as of 27 September 2022) and sourced them from TGStat, an online database of Telegram groups.