Conflict in Ukraine: does social media influence the war?

TV5MONDE: On social networks, TikTok beauty influencers are becoming important relays of the war. What does this phenomenon remind you of?

Laura Sibony, HEC teacher: This shows the latent political role of social networks. We don’t often think about it when we post pictures of kittens but, yes, social media is a political tool. First of all, it’s a platform where people meet and compare opinions.

This also shows that it is a war that affects the entire population. It is not only the professional army but the whole population that is mobilized and cell phones have become weapons among others.

To (re) see: Ukraine: tell life under the bombs with TikTok

We are almost witnessing the emergence of a counter-power to both political and media power. The problem is that it is difficult to identify since each person has their own news feed and there are no longer any social or geographical limits.

With social networks, war no longer has a geographical barrier.

Laura Sibony, teacher at HEC.

TV5MONDE: Can we talk about the transformation of war through the use of social networks?

Laura Sibony: Today, there is no longer any geographic barrier in warfare. With social networks, you can be involved without being physically present on the territory. Anyone can send videos, try to mobilize people.

One almost has the impression that the word “war” is no longer appropriate. But it’s been a long time since war has been defined by the confrontation of two armies on the same territory. In 2015, we talked a lot about “virtual battlefield” or “cyber-warfare”. But when we use these terms, we rather think of cutting off a country’s internet networks to prevent it from defending itself. We think less about spreading “fake news” (false information) on social networks.

Maybe the word “TikTok war” is fitting. The term is appropriate insofar as the communication becomes cloudy, accelerates, goes without words and prevents the retreat of the analysis. The role of algorithms is becoming increasingly significant. But TikTok is of course not the only ground of war.

The place of video is much greater today. It is mainly due to the digital data storage capacities which have exploded in recent years.
Laura Sibony, teacher at HEC.

Social networks are no longer just a channel of information but also a channel of mobilization and emotion. The phenomenon is all the more amplified by the place of the video is much greater today. It is mainly due to the storage capacities which have exploded in recent years.

TV5MONDE: Does the proliferation of these videos really change anything on the ground or in the war?

Laura Sibony: We have no perspective on the war in Ukraine. But what seems striking with the use of video is already that the “deepfakes” (hyperfakes) are becoming more and more efficient and credible. The technology of “deepfakes” is based on an artificial intelligence that uses already existing videos. The more videos there are, the more “machine learning”, the artificial intelligence behind “deepfakes”, will be trained to create fake videos and fake news.

To (re) see: Hyperfaking: how “Deepfakes” change reality [À Vrai Dire]

This is also the first time that we have seen “deepfakes” in response to other “deepfakes.” On the Russian side, videos of Zelensky were asking for peace. Ukrainians raised the poor quality of these videos. They themselves made “deepfakes” of Vladimir Putin asking for peace.

On the other hand, these videos lead to more mobilization from the outside simply because we see more war. In the field, the trivialization of the video tool causes less distinction between the real and the virtual. Anything can be filmed at any time.

TV5MONDE: Zelensky has stood out since the start of the war for his communication on his own social networks. How do you analyze Russian and Ukrainian digital strategies?

Laura Sibony: Already, I would not say that Ukraine has necessarily won its communication war. It depends on the audiences. We have recently seen pro-Putin demonstrations in Germany and on Russian TV. In the West, Ukraine won, for the rest it is less certain.

To (re) see: War in Ukraine: does the battle of images claim victims? [À Vrai Dire]

But it seems to me that Russia is very much into a censorship strategy. Many social networks have been cut. Vladimir Putin has enacted a law making anyone liable to prison who publishes information contrary to his communication. He also assumes to disseminate clearly false information, “fake news” (as is currently the case with the Boutcha massacre, editor’s note.).

Ukraine uses the same tools. I would say that there is more a strategy of transparency and a desire to move people.

We must rethink the opacity of algorithms and the political role of social networks compared to traditional media.Laura Sibony, teacher at HEC.

Either way, it leads us to rethink a new media ethic. For this, we must rethink the opacity of algorithms and the political role of social networks compared to traditional media.

And for good reason, the publications that get the most likes and comments are often the most polarizing information. The smiley that generates the most reactions on Twitter is the smiley “angry”. This prompts the various platforms to push their users into outrage.

To follow: LIVE-Ukraine: kyiv is preparing for the fall of Mariupol and a major offensive in the Donbass

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Conflict in Ukraine: does social media influence the war?

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