War of tweets*: how Russia and the West confront in social networks

War of tweets*: how Russia and the West confront in social networks
War of tweets*: how Russia and the West confront in social networks
5 November, 11:33Photo: Соцсети
The propaganda struggle between the two rivals has already captured the whole world and is still being fought with varying degrees of success.

Ivan Zubov

The special operation in Ukraine is also being actively carried out on social networks, and so far with varying success, and twists and turns in its course shed light on the background of some political events, in particular, the grain deal. The online publication Re-Russia publishes an analytical review of the situation.

For example, they cite the results of a study by the Brookings Institution that demonstrates the huge resonance that the issue of food security has in Africa, where the vast majority of users accuse Russia of creating food problems, and the narrative that they are caused by Western sanctions is not very popular. .

At the same time, the pro-Kremlin topic of Ukrainian Nazism/Fascism gained immense popularity there, thanks to three specific viral videos. Finally, according to a study by the Center for European Policy Analysis, Russia has completely won the Twitter battle about blowing up Nord Stream: 63% of all tweets about it blamed Western countries for blowing it up, and only 10% blamed Russia.

The battlefield for Nord Stream remains with Russia

The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) has published a study on the formation of international public opinion regarding the undermining of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The authors analyzed 500,000 tweets about the attack, written between September 24 and October 2. In 63% of cases, the United States was blamed for the explosions, 27% of the tweets were neutral and contained calls to wait for the results of the investigation into the accident, and only in 10% of cases did users blame Russia. The authors analyze how this general picture, which is so unfavorable for the West, was formed. First, they write, the trend of disinformation from the American information field is rapidly spreading to Europe and vice versa. Thus, the post of Scottish historian Craig Murray scored the most views and retweets in the United States, who said that Poland, Ukraine and the United States are shifting the blame for undermining the gas pipeline to Russia, despite the fact that these countries were most opposed to its construction. Numerous other tweets blamed Poland and Norway for the attack, pointing out that a new gas pipeline opened between the two countries the day after the attack.

An important role in the escalation of disinformation is played by European far-right politicians who use the general political tension in Europe. For example, French nationalist Florian Filippo tweeted eight times about US responsibility for the Nord Stream attack, urging France to withdraw from NATO. Gunnar Lindemann, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany, also expressed the opinion that the Poles were involved in the sabotage. In the US, journalists, conservative pundits, and Republican Party officials have begun to speculate that Washington orchestrated the sabotage to manipulate European politicians. Finally, the researchers note that while not all disinformation campaigns on social media originate from sources affiliated with the Kremlin, it nevertheless often contributes to their further spread. For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry waited until the fake about America’s involvement in the Nord Stream accident spread widely on social networks, after which it posted on its English and Spanish profiles a video excerpt with Biden’s statement that “there will be no Nord Stream 2 if Russia will launch an invasion [of Ukraine].” Similar support was given to this trend by some Chinese dignitaries.

West wins grain deal

The researchers note that conspiracy theories and disinformation about the SVO in Ukraine are spreading not only on Twitter, but also in other social networks. And another mechanism for the formation of anti-Western narratives is the fake accounts identified in them. For example, at the end of September, 1,600 pro-Kremlin accounts were discovered on Facebook ** , targeting audiences in Germany, Italy, and France.

This issue is becoming increasingly acute in the context of growing economic difficulties in the West, on the one hand, and the struggle for developing countries and countries with emerging markets that Russia and the West are waging. Here, too, a powerful battle of narratives is unfolding, and its twists and turns shed light on some important political plots - in particular, the fate of the grain deal.

This becomes clear from the results of another study (this time by the American Brookings Institution), which analyzes the reaction to the events in Ukraine in Africa. Here, 3.5 million tweets written from February 14 to August 14 were taken as the basis. Most of them (190 thousand) were devoted to the blockade of Ukrainian ports. At the same time, responsibility was most often assigned to Russia, and only 10% of tweets blamed the European sanctions policy for the food crisis.

The fight against Nazism is going on with varying success

Another subject of discussion on African Twitter was Nazism in Ukraine. A total of 72,000 tweets appeared on this topic, 77% of them claim that Russia is fighting fascism/Nazism in Ukraine. There were three bursts of similar tweets tied to relevant news stories. The first came on March 12, when a video circulated online showing an African student in Ukraine being interrogated at a police station. The second - on May 17, when the states announced the deployment of their troops in Somalia. Users compared this move to Russia’s buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border in the winter of late 2021/early 2022 and accused the US of supporting Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Finally, the last wave of tweets occurred between July 16 and 24, when a video of “neo-Nazis” attacking Ukrainian businesses in 2017 appeared online.

The authors of the report divided all processed tweets into two groups: tweets accusing Nazism and proof tweets refuting widespread fakes. During the observation period, there were significantly more accusatory tweets than proof tweets. The number of tweets-proofs exceeded the number of tweets-accusations only on July 31, two days after the mass death of prisoners of war in Olenovka. Many of the proof tweets were dedicated to Wagner's involvement in this PMC. Most often, users who spread news about “Ukrainian Nazis” identify themselves as socialists, and a special Bot Sentiment program describes their accounts as “subversive” and “involved in malicious activity” (such activity usually includes spreading fakes and harassing other accounts) .

The authors of both studies note that Twitter has already taken steps to stop the spread of fakes. For example, the social network has recently stopped promoting accounts affiliated with Russian state media, as well as all tweets that link to pro-Kremlin sources.

*Social network banned in Russia

**Social network banned in Russia

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