Social networks

As we wrote above, social networks are the main channel for the distribution of news in Ukraine according to the end of 2019 (a study commissioned by USAID-Internews). 68% of Ukrainians obtain news from social networks and only 66% from television (several options could be mentioned in the survey). Thus, social networks and television complement each other in Ukraine and have a mutual influence. TV channels broadcast their best shows through social networks. Leading journalists lead their pages on social networks. On the TV channel, guests answer questions from 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. These sanctions continue to apply under President Volodymyr Zelensky, and in May 2020 they were extended for another three years.

Now Ukrainians can access these social networks only using VPN or proxies, which has led to a 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 of media consumption commissioned by USAID-Internews in 2019, Ukrainians most often used Facebook (11%), YouTube (4%) and VKontakte (1%). Only 0.2% of respondents named Twitter popular in the West.

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

On the other side of the spectrum, Russian public officials and academics argue that western countries are also waging 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 organizations cannot be considered as “media”, but should be viewed as instruments of an information war.