A year of war has been battle of online narratives – Ukrainian media specialist


Ukrainian media specialist has praised social media as a “great platform to tell the truth” amid “dangerous” Russian narratives circulating online, and described why “there is less humour” in her country’s effort to cope than there was in the early months of war.

Valeria Kovtun, 25, is the head of Filter, a Ukrainian government-backed project launched in 2021 to promote media literacy.

As February 24 marks exactly one year since Russia invaded, Ms Kovtun, who works remotely from west London, spoke to the PA news agency on why social media has been a “useful tool” in the Ukrainian fight for freedom and expressed concern over the West’s “odd” tendency to encourage reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine.

“Twitter or Facebook or Instagram help Ukrainians show the atrocities,” Ms Kovtun said.

“In cities and towns where Russians were brutally murdering Ukrainians for no reason – just because they were Ukrainian.

“Social media has been a great platform to tell the truth.”

Ms Kovtun explained that the war has been “a battle of narratives” of striving to push the truth of what is happening in Ukraine and show the country as one that is not “suffering” but willing to “fight and win”.

At the same time, Ms Kovtun said social media platforms have allowed Russian propaganda and false narratives – such as that Western countries are “extending the war” by supplying Ukraine with weapons – to foster and flourish.

“It’s a war of narratives… I often say that the war wouldn’t have happened if Russia didn’t prepare its population and through information and sort of propaganda,” she said.

“What works best is informing societies of potential information attacks and of potential narratives so that when they come across them, they are aware.

“You come across experts you don’t know (who) tell you: Have you maybe looked at this situation from a different point of view? Are you sure that these are indeed Russian soldiers killing Ukrainians? Are you sure that Zelensky didn’t do that?

“By asking you these questions they make you actually hesitate and then your brain is confused… And you end up being so confused that your brain just switches off.

Distrust is actually a very dangerous phenomena in society (and) unfortunately, it works well.

“Distrust is actually a very dangerous phenomena in society (and) unfortunately, it works well.”

Ms Kovtun spoke about one online discourse that Ukrainians have found particularly “odd” over the last 12 months.

“There is this weird tendency from the West for reconciliation, to make sure that we have a dialogue with Russians which I find quite inappropriate at this time,” she said.

“So when they say you should reconcile with Russians, I’m just a bit worried that they do not really understand the context of this war and they do not really get the idea that we are here on our land and we are being attacked.

“People feel like there are two parties involved whereas we just have to defend ourselves.”

The spread of “distrust” Ms Kovtun said is something she believes Ukrainians are “less prone” to on social media as they are more aware of the country’s historical relationship with Russia.

“I’m quite confident that Ukrainians are less prone to disinformation on social media,” she said.

“And very often when we conduct some lectures and training, and we ask people, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ they say, ‘Oh, I just use this tool, I use Google reverse image search and I’d make sure this picture is actually in the right context.’

“Whereas people who do not know the context, who do not know the history, who just know there’s a war in Ukraine… They come across something which might make them believe that Russia is on the right side here.”

While acknowledging that social media has been “useful” in Ukraine’s fight with Russia, making the world aware of the extent of the damage inflicted upon her home country, Ms Kotvun also said that they have suffered a great deal from people becoming fatigued at reading about the war.

“Let’s be honest, it’s not very pleasant,” she said.

“Users tend to avoid news at all, because everything is quite negative – the earthquake in Turkey, climate change, the war in Ukraine and of course, it’s normal that people do not want to see this negativity for that long.

“So you just have to use it to your benefit.”

Ms Kovtun spoke to PA in November 2022 on how social media humour had been “a crucial weapon” for Ukrainians in the war, but as the anniversary approaches, she said that people can no longer maintain the “same level of resilience”.

“I see that there is less humour now,” she said.

“When you constantly try to survive with always thinking that I will have my life after we finish the war, after the victory… It’s undermining you.

“Moods change, people get sad news.

“It’s not always winnings even though people try to be positive and they try to basically survive on hope.”

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