Social media impact on war in Ukraine

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The war in Ukraine is not the first time we’ve seen international strife unfold through our phones, but it is arguably the first to go viral across the globe.

“Information is power, knowledge is power,” said Beau Russell, a journalism student at the University of Arkansas.

Social media has an impact on information dissemination, connection to the people impacted and how history is documented.

“It’s almost being fought digitally,” said Ninette Sosa, a journalism professor also at the University of Arkansas. She’s also a former digital journalist at KNWA/FOX24.

We’re seeing the war in Ukraine unfold in our hands.

“You can look at that and see in real time, bombs dropping, people on iPhones and GoPros,” she said.

“Social media now is, I think, at the culmination of what it has been building up to be,” said Russell. “You’re seeing real, horrible tragedies play out live on social media. You’re seeing buildings get blown up on Instagram Live, and it’s just kind of terrifying.”

Anatolii Nezgoduk is a Ukrainian student studying at the University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture. His home school is the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, located in Kyiv.

He applied to come to Arkansas in spring of last year, well before tensions came to a boiling point in his home country. However, he said he started really paying attention to those tensions back in November.

“From one side, it was simple that it can happen. My mind understood this from logical results of previous actions,” he said. “But for my soul, it was unexpectable.”

He’s able to stay connected to friends and family through social media. He said his family is currently safe in a non-occupied part of the country.

“I really love my country and sometimes it’s really difficult to be far from my family,” he said. “On Facebook, it’s interesting that people mostly up they’re positive, they’re trying to keep calm this posting some jokes, caricatures and so on, so it helps to be more confident.”

Social media is also changing the game for war journalism. Sosa was in the Middle East covering the Israel-Lebanon war in the mid 2000’s working for CNN.

“That particular war was about using big old cell phones and calling your news station, hoping to get a signal through because again, you know, the missiles and the rockets were coming in,” she remembered.

She said having covering wars is important for the documentation of history. In today’s day and age, she worries for the safety of project on the ground in war zones, especially ones that show their face and name. Several national publications started removing the names in the by-lines for reporting on the war to protect their identity.

But even that isn’t enough to save everyone, as we saw with the death of Little Rock filmmaker Brent Renaud, along with two reporters from Fox News.

Anyone can be a photographer and help document war simply by hitting record on their cell phones. Sosa said we have to be careful of misinformation.

“You don’t know which propaganda that you’re supporting, or who exactly is the person behind that filmed that,” she said.

Governments on both sides of the conflict are also harnessing the power of social media. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy uses his official Instagram account to post video addresses to his people and the world.

According to NPR, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that makes it a crime to report information that goes against the Russian Government’s version of events.

The Washington Post reported that President Biden hosted a virtual briefing with TikTok influencers about the war in Ukraine, so they could help disseminate information and messaging supporting Ukraine.

“When it comes to the influencers, whether it’s on Instagram or TikTok, that is just huge for students here at the university who actually rely on that information,” said Sosa.

“Young people with social media are able to push messages,” said Russell. “We’ve seen that in the last few years in the United States where social media has played a big part in social movements.”

Russell also thinks social media might be a great way to build bridges between the world and the people of Russia who are also against the invasion. Many videos and stories have circulated showing war protests in all the major cities in Russia, along with people getting arrested for protesting.

“Often times when issues like this come up, you see a lot of anger towards whatever nationality that is,” he said. “I think if we didn’t get to see that people in Russia also aren’t okay with what’s going on, there might be that same anger towards Russia.”

For the next generation of women, this is an interesting time to be coming up in the ranks.

“Because of everything that’s going on and how visible it is to the world, that’s why you are getting so many people from all over the world wanting to help any way they can,” said Russell.

For Anatolii, he hopes countries with power like the United States continue to support his home country in any way they can, so that his homeland can find peace.

“Our country’s strong enough. We are trying to protect our land,” he said. “We tried to protect democracy in our country, in nearby countries. We are like a gate of NATO, a gate to Europe, a gate of democracy.”

Anatolii plans on staying here in Fayetteville for the time being to continue working on his education, He expects the university will help him with extended scholarships. He hopes the US will cut down some of the bureaucratic red tape for Ukrainians like him who are in the US and need to get legal documents faster.

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