The Role of Social Media in the War Between Russia and the Ukraine

As the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia escalates, a development took place earlier this week that went beyond any espionage thriller. The Ukraine found unlikely allies in the form of social media platforms: Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook—and its parent company: Meta. 

The spread of cybercrime

The well-known downside to social media has been the questionable validity and accuracy of information that appears on various platforms. Ever since the online revolution began, the Internet has become a breeding ground for cybercrime. The recent reports of streaming scams on television and ad fraud were concerning enough. While operating in the background, cybercrime hacking has a forefront in international politics. Cyber criminals—or cyber terrorists—have opportunities to commit unimaginable damage never before possible. What is true? What isn’t? The events of this past week proved what can happen.

News from Meta

Earlier this week, Meta reported that underground hackers had infiltrated Facebook to target important individuals who are central to the war. Significantly, those targeted—from military leaders to politicians, and a journalist—are fighting for the Ukraine. As frightening as this development is, it is hardly surprising.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also take action

An article by Elizabeth Culliford for Reuters reported how last weekend, Meta discovered approximately 40 fake accounts that appeared on Facebook and Instagram, which were then removed for violating rules against inauthentic behavior. These bogus accounts were discovered to have operated from Russia. Additionally, Twitter discovered many false accounts that attempted to disrupt and deflect the legitimate reports and concerns about the Ukraine. These accounts, too, were based in Russia, and were immediately shut down. And even YouTube was faced with having to search and remove several channels that were spreading false information about the war between the Ukraine and Russia.

Ghostwriter

It was discovered that most if not all of these international cyber hackers were pinpointed to part of a group that goes by the name of “Ghostwriter.” Meta claims that Ghostwriter was able to infiltrate the social media accounts of its Ukrainian targets, and posted false video content—discovered on YouTube—that showed how the efforts of troops were failing, and in one case even surrendering. To give this coverage even more of an illusion of believability, Ghostwriter was able to create sites that appeared to be independent news outlets. Eventually, the security experts at Meta stepped in, blocked all of the phishing domains and phony outlets, and alerted who they were able to of those that had been targeted.

Preventative measures from Meta

As a way to halt or deter further malicious activity from cyber terrorists whose intent is to distort what is happening in this conflict, Meta has currently disabled searches and the ability to view friends lists on Ukrainian-based Facebook accounts. While this move is restrictive, for matters regarding safety and security, it is necessary.

For all of the controversy that has surround Facebook’s transformation to Meta, it may be argued that its new culture and set of values are being demonstrated; particularly those centered on acting proactively and efficiently for the greater good.

Late breaking news of social media coverage from the Ukraine

Diametrically parallel to the misinformation spread by hackers and cyber terrorists are honest social media posts and reports from the Ukrainian front. Volodymyr Zelensky, President of the Ukraine, was recently named as an “online hero” and “a symbol of hope and grace” by Roger Cohen in The New York Times. Refusing to be intimidated, Mr. Zelensky has not held back in the charges he has made of the war crimes committed by Russia, as well as signing a formal application to join the European Union. Using social media—honestly—the number of followers to Mr. Zelinsky’s Twitter account has dramatically increased to 4.3 million. Complementing Twitter’s effort is how the Ukraine is harnessing the power of TikTok to present its situation—genuinely—to the world at large. The TikTok campaign has gained sympathy of a global scale for the Ukraine. 

Sadly, while this situation in the Ukraine is still dire, here is hoping the advances of technology—in this case, the Internet and social media—may ultimately help and serve this country.