live warfare in the age of social media

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, social networks have been flooded with videos from both sides. Modern Warfare is now played live, with a mobile phone in hand. In this new type of wrestling, the people of Kiev are still winning the image battle.

On her TikTok account, Ukrainian photographer Valeria Shashenok usually posts videos from her travels, fashion shoots or evenings with friends. But in the ten days since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the content of his messages has changed dramatically.

A young woman in her twenties talks about her daily life under the bombs from the city of Chernihiv, about a hundred kilometers north of Kyiv. Not without humor, and in music, she describes to her approximately 300,000 subscribers “an ordinary day in a bomb shelter” or explains to them “what to buy in a supermarket during the war.”

With his country facing a major attack, these videos may seem completely out of the ordinary, but they still garner millions of views. In the age of social media, mobile phones are ubiquitous and allow us to live the war.

Dancing soldiers

Even Ukrainian soldiers use Instagram, TikTok or Twitter to talk about their experiences on the battlefield. Soldier Alex Hook with 4.3 million followers is by far the most famous of them all. While in the Donbass, he regularly posts videos of him and his comrades in arms dancing to Nirvana songs or preparing for battle.

Ukrainian army also his own twitter account and informs its more than 340,000 subscribers hourly about the progress of the conflict. The country’s armed forces show battle scenes, as well as images of Russian prisoners of war, which, however, is prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

The use of social media in times of war is nothing new. During the Arab Spring, or even in Syria, various warring parties did not fail to use it to organize demonstrations or sway public opinion in their favor.

The difference today lies in the new way of storytelling. With more and more people holding laptops and documenting their day on a daily basis across multiple platforms, war has become a topic like any other. Young people use their own codes to talk about what they are experiencing in real time. As a result, some Ukrainian influencers, better known for their beauty lessons than their political stances, have turned into a 2.0 resistant version.

Influencers began to resist

Miss Ukraine 2015 Anastasia Lenna took off her dresses and today in her Instagram account she shows herself in a camouflage uniform with a weapon in her hand to call on her compatriots to defend their country.

Singer Nadya Dorofeeva, who has 5 million followers, has also stopped posting photos from private beaches and select parties. She appeared in tears over her account, asking for an end to hostilities. “I am staying in Ukraine, in Kyiv! I ask everyone to remain calm, do not panic, stick together and read only official sources! And support each other like never before!” she wrote under this picture.

Andriy Khlyvnyuk, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Boombox, one of the country’s most popular bands, also made a splash by performing the traditional anthem on his shoulder. The star turned down a US tour to fight the Russians.


Digital battle won by Ukraine

At the top of the state, Ukrainian leaders also realized that the war is also won on social networks. While the Russians have so far been masters of the art of disinformation with their troll armies, today they seem to have been left behind. With the start of the Russian offensive, President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a face that appears everywhere on the Internet and draws sympathy. His Twitter account went from 300,000 to 4.9 million followers in a matter of days.

The former actor-turned-head of state appears on the ground in selfie mode, wearing a khaki T-shirt on his back, close to the population and in control. Every day, the Ukrainian president addresses his fellow citizens and the whole world, showing that he is resisting and will not leave his post. Now he personifies the struggle of the Ukrainian Tom with a finger against the Russian giant.

Conversely, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin appears aloof and belligerent. Sitting alone at a table or accompanied by several officers at attention, the master of the Kremlin locks up his communication, just as he silences freedom of speech in his country. To control public opinion, the Russian president blocked access to Facebook in Russia and restricted access to Twitter. He also signed a law providing for up to fifteen years in prison for publishing “false information” about the war in Ukraine.


Russian social networks muzzled

The Russian authorities would also try to organize a campaign in support of an invasion of Ukraine. According to the Reddit website, several dozen influencers in the country have posted similar videos in which they give exactly the same speech, favorable to the Kremlin and condemning the “genocide in Donbass.”


Despite the risks, Russian officials preferred to express their disagreement. Actor Danila Kozlovsky, best known for his role in the TV series Vikings, was not shy about saying no to war in a message posted on his Instagram account, which has over a million followers.

oh what is happening now is a disaster. In all senses. Human, humanistic, political, economic. Yes, whatever. I love my country. With all my heart. I always believed that true patriotism is Resoluteness telling the truth, hiding in Tom, what you truly feel and discover. To my great personal disappointment, I did not always show this quality. But now is the time to speak. The point of no return that we are passing is literally on tanks. And I am writing this text not for the sake of hype or God forbid, the desire to further ignite the fire of aggression, but because it really hurts. “Where have you been all these eight years”? I want to immediately ask, “where were you really,” but it’s probably indecent to the question, so I’ll answer differently. I don’t know.. I didn’t see, didn’t study or didn’t want to see and understand.. I was indifferent, interested only in my life, when it was necessary to turn to the mind and the world by all means. I naively believe that all this is working out and there will definitely be an agreement at the top, because smart people are sitting. Will not allow war. Assumptions. Scary. Painfully. Unbearably sad. And ashamed. And also for myself. For their silence and indifference all these years. But is the classical world possible? Violence breeds source code. Intelligence can be found in 21 cases, in this time, shaken and nervous by covid and other conflicts, to solve problems with specific “military actions” against the brotherly people. After all, why are so many wrong in their predictions? Just because it’s completely unimaginable. That Kharkov, Kyiv and other beautiful cities will be found in the military chronicle, and our Ukrainian friends in telephone conversations will be lost asking “why”, and we will mumble something inarticulate in response. We are now all without exception, it captures, curses, hatred, criminal prosecution, clouded our space, coming from ourselves, this is what gives rise to any war. Continue in carousel👆


One of the most popular rappers in the country, Oxxxymiron, also announced on his account that he had decided to cancel six concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “I can’t entertain you because Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine and some Kievans are forced to hide in basements or in the subway, while others die,” he explained in the video.

Wars are no longer won only on the battlefield, but also on social networks. In her essay published in 2003 entitled “Before the Pain of Others”, the American philosopher Susan Sontag explained that the Spanish Civil War led to the emergence of photojournalism, when pioneers such as Robert Capa and Gerda Taro armed themselves with Leica scopes. to combat – decades later, the Vietnam War became the first to be televised daily.

The war in Ukraine will also go down in history as the first to be documented in this way in real time. But what will be left of these images of refugees on the roads of the country, these children under fire or exhausted fighters?

As The New Yorker notes, the stream “may just make us feel empathetic as we scroll through this content on our screen,” but that doesn’t prevent that even if “social media is an imperfect chronicler of wartime, in some cases it may also be the most reliable source we have,” the magazine says.

As for Susan Sontag, we are in any case not indifferent to this. Like Robert Capa’s famous “Death of a Republican Soldier” photograph taken in 1936, some of these photographs will remain in our memory for generations. “I am of the opinion that we should let these images haunt us, even if they are only images, symbols, important particles of a reality that they cannot all encompass: they nevertheless serve a certain function. The pictures say, “That’s what people are.” able to do with each other! “Don’t forget!” the philosopher summed up.

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