The Consequences of Using Social Media to Document War |
As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues to grow and gain international attention, it has become clear that social media is now one of the primary sources of real-time documentation of events. Due to this increased representation of social media, large amounts of users and time spent online have enhanced the number of first-hand witnesses and enabled instant sharing. However, social media has its costs as unreliable sources are shared and misinformation tends to spread faster than the truth.
Due to varying levels of usage and effectiveness, it is important that we do our best to properly research, verify, and share information, especially when it comes to telling the story of war. Every action can have an impact, so we must do so with reason and support to ensure the best understood and balanced environment. We have a responsibility to ensure truthful media reporting.
Sophomore Sasha Dvolinsky studies international business with an emphasis on understanding global relationships and the strategies of individuals and institutions. Dvolinsky has strong ties to Russia and Ukraine as her family is originally from Ukraine and apart from her parents and herself, everyone lives in either country.
Dvolinsky said many of his family members were stranded in kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, for about a week when the bombings began, but eventually transportation and traffic out of the city became less congested. Since then, his family has been able to find safer conditions closer to Ukraine’s western border. There, she says, Russian troops have a less direct influence.
“I’ve seen it all over my timelines and I think it’s really good for people to learn from social media…social media can get first-hand information from people in Ukraine who use their platforms to spread information about what’s going on right now,” Dvolinsky said. “But a lot of it can be fake news, so it’s very important to know whether your sources are reliable or not.”
Dvolinksy explained that she hasn’t personally seen a lot of edited and incorrect evidence, but rather people misinterpreting the information.
“A lot of people distort the information, so that some pieces are no longer used for raising awareness, but as war propaganda…” Dvolinsky said. “Like that, they are pleading for World War III. But people take sides to say they are for Ukraine and fuck Russia. But people don’t realize that many Russian citizens are also against the Russian government.
These examples highlight how social media drives a wedge as people are surrounded by various bubbles of information about war. These bubbles do not expand effectively to show alternate versions of the story.
In addition to the limitations of the social media bubble, in Russia itself, a new law has been passed on spreading a “false” story. According to Poynter Institute, Russia goes so far as to stop and punish any explanation of the actions taken towards Ukraine if they are qualified as anything other than a “special military operation” or “peacekeeping”. We also see forms of speech limitation by Russian journalism and social media posts being restricted from other countries and media. NPR reports that Youtube and Twitch have blocked Russian media posts and that Russia has banned the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and VPNs.
The rationale for the censorship of the Russian people by their government is to ensure order and trust by limiting accurate media representation, while the censorship of international entities is to limit potential propaganda and disinformation. According to BBC, this media blackout has created a confused dynamic between the Russian people and the international community. An example of this confusion is a story that explained the misunderstanding a soldier and his family had about what he was enlisted for along the Ukrainian border. The family called the Russian military and the story they were told of their son’s whereabouts did not match their knowledge. Since then, the family has had a relative silence on the truth.
Assistant Professor of Communications Julia Hildebrand, whose main area of research includes media ethics, explained the reasoning behind these forms of censorship.
“Social media plays a vital role in mass media production and coverage today. It’s nothing new, but we’re less and less on the same page, as a country, as a society and even around the world,” Hildebrand said. “We consume different information from different sources, and what happens on social media is a divide that has widened dramatically with social media filter bubbles.”
Hildebrand explained that filter bubbles are the areas people find most interesting on social media, and through the interaction of content, algorithms are able to reinforce and feed us niche information. According to Hildebrand, these algorithms are ultimately ad-driven and they predict our behavior and give individuals very specific profiles. Once these profiles are established, the different aspects of the stories are ignored and not shared in a way that is balanced and representative of the full truth.
The censorship of the Russian people can be encouraged for two reasons. First, it protects and prioritizes the safety of journalists and people who may speak out against the actions of the Russian government. And second, this limit can help reduce the propaganda war machine that Russia has mastered for years and that filter bubbles can still perpetuate.
Hildebrand discussed the idea of free speech and “free access” versus the fog of war. According to her, it is with increased access to media and documentation that misinformation can spread quickly and create a confused state of situational awareness. This obvious complexity makes it essential that actions be taken by users and institutions to promote only the most credible and understood global environment.
Social media is a powerful tool to keep people informed, but even with its potential, we as a society interact with topics or groups that are unreliable and we must do our best to determine when to interfere. for the safety of individuals. In order to use our platforms most effectively, Hildebrand and Diplomat-in-Residence Neal Walker emphasized the need to verify and listen to credible sources as well as understand media fluidity, which means taking recognize that information may change.
For more verified and accurate sources, Hildebrand suggested listening to heads of state, verified journalists in Ukraine and Russia, established credible sources such as CNN, BBC and NPR, UN refugees and Human Rights Watch. Walker advised seeking media from UN entities, NGOs and credible news sources. To effectively determine whether information viewed online is accurate, Hildebrand and Walker recommended using the aforementioned sources to help triangulate information and establish a balanced truth.
Social media is an essential part of sharing information today, but we must strive to use it responsibly. We can do this by verifying sources and information and not reposting everything we see. It’s important to try to get new information and share different sides and aspects of current events, but it should be done in the most informed way possible and with an emphasis on the fact that information can change quickly. .
If you find online media spreading a message that could be harmful to individuals, do your best to decide when there is bias and reasonable and unreasonable arguments, and when to step in and speak up. War is a long and complicated process, so we must make our own efforts not to spread false information and recognize that ultimately we are all humans who must work together.