Social networks

Facebook is the dominant social network in Ukraine with few real opponents. Russian social networks VKontakte (In contact) and Odnoklassniki (Classmates) used to be the most popular, but things changed dramatically in May 2017 when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, on the basis of a decision by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, imposed sanctions on some Russian Internet services. VKontakte (In contact) and Odnoklassniki (Classmates) were on the list. Now Ukrainians can access these social networks only using VPN or proxies, which has led to decrease of their audiences. Meanwhile, Vkontakte (In contact) was not blocked on non-government controlled territories, so it remains the most used social network there.

According to the study conducted by InMind for Internews Network, 57 percent of Ukrainian social network users are on Facebook (37 percent back in 2016), 21 percent are on VKontakte (In contact; 49 percent in 2016), 15 percent are on Odnoklassniki (Classmates; 40 percent in 2016). Twitter is only used by 8 percent of Ukrainians who are into social networks (12 percent in 2016). Up to 42 percent use Facebook to get news, while 8 percent do this on VKontakte (In contact), 4 percent on Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and 2 percent on Twitter.

Social media have become an important part of the country’s media sphere. Newsrooms actively use different types of video production to attract audience, including live streaming on Facebook, video dispatches on their sites, etc. Each newsroom invests time and efforts to communication with their audiences on Facebook.

As social networks are increasingly used to provide and share information and news, they have also become the focus of attention regarding so-called “disinformation campaigns” and “information warfare” in the country. Particularly in the wake of the 2013-2014 crisis, the Kremlin has been accused of orchestrating disinformation campaigns against the Ukrainian government and western countries by using online trolls and state-controlled online outlets such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today), Sputnik, 1st Channel, RTR, Life News, etc (see eg VoxUkraine, Singularex and studies). Social networks have magnified the effect of these campaigns and are still considered the primary channel to ensure the spread of these news.

On the other side of the spectrum, Russian public officials and academics argue that western countries are also waging an information warfare against Russia, with Ukraine being only one of the fronts of this conflict. Russian official documents such as Military Doctrine, Information Security Doctrine and Foreign Policy concept stress that in today’s world information has become a weapon and that Russia should use a weapon, too, in a global “information battle.” External observers, such as Amnesty International Ukraine, have remarked that “[i]ndependent journalists and media companies, especially those who are accused of disseminating “pro-Russian” views, have increasingly come under pressure by both the authorities and members of violent groups” (Amnesty 2019). Ukrainian side often replies to these accusations that in a situation of Russian military attack Russian information organisations cannot be considered as “media”, but should be viewed as instruments of an information war.