While the air and ground war in Ukraine are of utmost concern, a second war—of information—is also raging. MIT IDE Director, Sinan Aral, claims that on this front, despite Russia’s historical success in controlling narratives, Ukraine appears to be winning the current information war, especially online and with social media. As a result, Ukraine is gaining support internationally.
Here is an excerpt from the column:
“President Volodymyr Zelensky is expertly waging the information war and deftly outmaneuvering Putin at his own game. He rallied Ukrainian men to defend their homeland, took to the encrypted messaging platform Telegram to speak directly to the Russian people in an effort to counter Putin’s narrative about the war at home, urged the West to step up its assistance in defense of law, order and peace, and even pleaded with foreigners to cross the border into Ukraine to defend western democracy. This time around, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google are proactively engaging in the information war, banning Russian state-owned media from advertising on their platforms and defiantly factchecking Putin’s propaganda despite Russia’s protests and a partial ban of Facebook in Russia.
This information war is critical to what happens next in Ukraine for several reasons. It motivates the resistance by inspiring Ukrainian citizens to take up arms in defense of their country and motivating them with social proof that they are united and not fighting alone. It encourages foreign assistance, pressuring Europe and the United States to step up their efforts to end the conflict. It fans the flames of resistance in Russia, mobilizing anti-war protests in Moscow and elsewhere in defiance of Putin’s aggression. And it may even eventually demoralize Russian troops, who must be wondering what on earth they are doing in Ukraine if the motivation for the intervention has been a lie all along.
Social media has rewired the central nervous system of humanity and everyone, from world leaders, to troops, to ordinary citizens, are now connected to an information ecosystem that is hard to suppress and easy to manipulate. As a result, the war for the hearts and minds of the world will be won or lost, in large part, on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, over grainy cell phone footage and shocking accounts of atrocities, setbacks and victories against all odds.”