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Online discourse in times of war: Analysing the social media conversation around Ukraine

While the "fog of war" still characterises knowledge about conflicts in 2022, it is less thick than in the past. In the case of Ukraine, the population is highly active on social media, providing important insights into political debates and the perceptions of developments during the ongoing war in the country. 

Democracy Reporting International monitors social media around the Russian invasion of Ukraine to provide an understanding of online public discourse and user perceptions in the social media debates around the conflict. The reports below reveal insights on public opinion in regards to the war and its different stages, flag disinformation threats and support an understanding of humanitarian issues during the conflict. 


→ Waves of Systematic, Nationwide Russian Missile Attacks on Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure: The Discussion on Telegram and Twitter

On 10 October, the Russian army launched a series of massive Russian missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure. On social media, the narratives of these attacks focused on two main themes: their use as a military measure and as a strategy to put psychological pressure on the Ukrainian population, creating instability in the country and undermining the position of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Given that Ukraine is a major energy exporter and a transport hub for EU countries, the Russian attacks on infrastructure also seek to undermine ally support. 

→ The Nuclear Blackmailing Narrative on Twitter and Telegram

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the concern of a nuclear escalation has been the focus of media, governments and experts' attention. DRI analysed the online conversation on Twitter and Telegram to understand perceptions of the nuclear threat anong Russian and Ukrainian users. In this report, we analysed 505,430 tweets in Ukrainian, Russian and English and focused on four main Telegram groups: 20 pro-Ukrainian channels in Ukraine, 11 pro-Russian channels in Ukraine, four pro-war channels in Russia, and four independent channels in Russia.

→ Russian Disquiet on Telegram: A Social Media Analysis of Russian Debates on the War in Ukraine

The Kremlin described the war in Ukraine as a 'special military operation' that would not significantly change the lives of most Russians. This fiction, already fragile due to the declining economic situation and the high number of Russian soldiers killed, was shattered when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a 'partial mobilisation' on 21 September 2022. In this report, we examined user activity on Russian Telegram channels to understand reactions to the Kremlin's announcement of partial mobilisation in the war effort.

→ Similar Sentiments, but for How Long? Wartime Pluralism and Online Discourse in Ukraine

This report focuses on pluralism in discourse, referring to the plurality of voices, analyses, opinions expressed and topics. Access to a plurality of ideas and research is essential to enable citizens to engage with different ideas, make informed choices and freely lead their lives. To assess how the large-scale Russian attack has changed communication patterns and its effect on online pluralism, we monitored Ukrainian debates on Twitter, Telegram and Facebook from February 2022 to August 2022. 

→ Words, Deeds and Perceptions – Ukrainian Social Media Debates on Wartime Allies

This report analyses perceptions of ally support by Ukrainian users on Twitter and Telegram. After the start of the war, countries around the world quickly moved to help the country with military aid, humanitarian support, public sentiment and political solidarity. How is this support reflected in social media debates in Ukraine? To find out, we monitored Ukrainian discussions on Twitter and Telegram from November 2021 to July 2022. We analysed 638,717 tweets and 274,254 posts on Telegram.

→  How Russia's War on Ukraine is Challenging our Digital Norms

An unprecedented level of digital support for Ukraine -domestically and globally- has led to novel interventions that disrupt how we have previously upheld internet norms. This report outlines changes in digital activity since the war, including ways in which big tech have supported Ukraine, the establishment of an IT army in the country, and the power and influence of Russian propaganda.

→  Personalities of Public Opinion: The Influencers Dominating Ukraine's Wartime Social Media

Ukraine has become the epicentre of a growing trend in political communication: the political influencer. Ukrainian social media channels and influencers have become an important source of war news. Even when online channels are fertile ground for disinformation and manipulation, social media channels have been key in documenting on-the-ground information about the war. This June 2022 report took a closer look at the social media landscape in Ukraine and examined the different types of actors influencing Ukrainian social media.

→  Eight Things You Should Know about Social Media in the War on Ukraine

The Russian war against Ukraine has been called 'the biggest online war of all time' or 'the first Tik Tok war'. Social media played a prominent role as a source of news, activism, dissent and manipulation. For example, the impact of Russia's disinformation practices is particularly evident in its success at home, with over 70% approval of what the government insists on calling a 'special military operation'. In June we published 8 trends to watch when analysing social media discourse around the war in Ukraine.