Team MyOxygen

Since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, the so-called “information front” has become something of an eye-opener for those of us tuned into the digital world.

Some surprising platforms have been transformed from everyday communication or entertainment apps to incredibly serious, vital tools recognised by both sides.

Here are the sites of just two battles on the “information front” of the Ukraine war.

(And at the bottom of this article you’ll find a handy link showing you some safe, reliable ways to help Ukrainians suffering in the conflict if you feel you’re in a position to.)

The Ukraine war – battles on the “information front”
1. TikTok – from dancing app to disinformation distribution

Videos on TikTok tagged #Ukraine have skyrocketed to around 11 billion views since February.

The platform has become such an important media channel for the war that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy personally appealed to TikTokers to help end the conflict. The White House even briefed a group of top TikTok influencers on what the US was doing to help Ukraine.

For people who still see TikTok as an app people (only) watch silly videos on, this sounds more than a little crazy. Yet the app has become a key part of what Ukrainian authorities have termed “the information front” of the war.

Being a very visual channel allows TikTok content to be very personal, relatable, and often emotionally charged. Seeing normal people react to their homes being devastated by the invasion has a hugely visceral impact, much more so than any stage-produced content. However, it also opens the way for content to be misconstrued or used to force a false narrative later on.

Some Russian TikTok propaganda videos have gone viral. Russian TikTok influencers have also apparently been pressured or persuaded en masse to regurgitate the state line on the war, to the confusion of their followers. Some high-profile #Ukraine TikTok videos have even been shown to be video game footage or of old military parades.

TikTok is apparently trying to halt the spread of misinformation and disinformation. But with a platform where most people post under pseudonyms, that’s based on a hidden algorithm that – like most social media – promotes content that polarises, and content that is itself usually remixed, sourceless, and often contextless, they have an uphill battle on their hands.

2. Telegram – two-state communication channel?

Telegram has become a vital communication channel for both sides of the war in Ukraine.

On the Ukrainian side, the official UkraineNow channel has three million followers that rely on it for accurate news updates and public information broadcasts. President Zelenskyy uses Telegram to informally update, raise funds, and recruit fighters from his more than 1.5 million followers, many of whom are international.

But news is far from all Telegram is being used for in Ukraine, nor is the information only one-way. Authorities send out everything from safety advice to air-raid warnings. The Ukrainian people message back Russian troop movements through an official chatbot. Refugees fleeing the conflict use it to connect with loved ones and get news.

President Zelenskyy’s team is very familiar with Telegram, having leveraged it successfully in his 2019 election campaign. Today, they also use it and other modern communications to streamline intragovernmental communication. At a recent peace conference, they simply messaged details to the president via Telegram. President Putin, on the other hand, receives printed hard copies.

The Russian invaders, finding themselves without access to other channels, have digital agents searching Telegram feeds for details and data. They also perform the now apparently standard move of bombarding the platform with fake accounts, bots, and disinformation.

Ordinary Russians are also using the popular platform to find news now they’re cut off from other channels, though it’s unclear how many are receiving accurate information. Like TikTok, Telegram is poorly set up to provide any kind of moderation of or for its users. There’s a reason why groups ranging from Black Lives Matter to white nationalists have used Telegram to communicate.

How to help Ukraine

The scale, complexity, and horrors of the conflict have left many people outside the Ukraine looking for ways they can help – even in a limited capacity.

With such a huge and overwhelming linked series of problems though, it can be difficult to know where best to contribute.

If you feel you are in a position to help, you can find helpful instructions for how best to do so over on Which? magazine.

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