CASE STUDY Annals of Disaster Risk Sciences Vol 5, No 1-2 (2021)

Social Networks in the Time of Crisis – Ukraine as a Virtual Battlefield

Nerma Halilović Kibrić, University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security Studies, Sarajevo, Bosna i Hercegovina
Jasmin Ahić, University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security Studies, Sarajevo, Bosna i Hercegovina
Kenan Hodžić, University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security Studies, Sarajevo, Bosna i Hercegovina

Address for correspondence: Nerma Halilović Kibrić, e-mail:



Previous research has established that during all phases of a crisis, people resort to different means of communication in order to get more information (McIntyre et al., 2012, Nelson et al., 2009, Lachlan et al., 2009), in order to reduce uncertainty ( Lachlan et al., 2010), and to gain a sense of control over the situation (Lachlan et al., 2016). At the beginning of the 21st century, mass communication is taking on new forms. The exponential growth and affirmation of the Internet as a very important channel for communication has minimized the influence of traditional media. Digitization processes, interactivity, multimedia, connection and networking of a large number of people and expediency in the dissemination of information enabled the wide use of social networks in times of crisis. In the first part of the paper, previous research on the use of social networks in crisis communication was synthesized, through the presentation of best practices for effective communication. The second part of the paper provides a detailed analysis of the use of social networks on the example of the war in Ukraine, answering two important questions: 1. how are social networks used to spread competing national narratives and disinformation in times of crisis? and 2. what is the role of social media owners and government policies in limiting disinformation?


social networks, crisis, crisis communication, war in Ukraine

1. Introduction

In the last few years, security challenges and threats exceed the borders of the modern state and most often become larger-scale crises. For this reason, the concepts of crisis, crisis management, crisis communication and management have recently become an indispensable part of public discourse. As Perinić (2009, p. 183) states, crises are "complex, unpredictable and difficult to control processes, phenomena or events that can result in endangering a large number of human lives and their material goods".

On the other hand, in the process of communication, the sender tries to convey his ideas or thoughts in such a way that will allow the recipient, based on the input material, to perceive an identical image or thought as imagined by the sender. Mirenić (2015) points out that this kind of communication is never achieved in practice precisely because of the various noises that arise on the way of information transmission. Especially those negative factors (noises) of influence are inevitable in the period of crises. This is why crisis communication is an extremely important element of a crisis and should be maximally involved in every segment of action during a crisis situation. Therefore, crisis management and communication management are parallel processes that require equal engagement and intersection. Communication is defined in scientific circles as "intermediate interaction between individuals that is realized by signs" (Rot, 1982), or more widely as "human interaction of a primarily social character that is realized through the exchange of information, directly or through media, in a spatially and temporally determined psychosocial context, certain immediate effects and relatively permanent social consequences" (Radojković and Miletić, 2005).

Global technological growth and development has contributed to the increasing use of social networks in everyday interpersonal communication. Distributing a large amount of information in a very short period of time is one of the main determinants of such media. If, on the other hand, the data on the number of users on a global level, as well as the time spent on them, most often with the help of mobile devices, is analyzed in more detail, it is clear that this type of communication can be very well used in times of crisis when there is a need for information is significantly increased. Ten years ago, social networks were seen as digital toys for teenagers and young adults, but today, thanks to the huge acceptance of the use of social networks by the world's population of all ages, social networks have transformed into viable communication channels. Social networks are not only an effective tool for monitoring and involving public discourse during the crisis process, but also enable a cultural shift in relation to how the public views its role in the crisis. Management in emergency situations and communication in crisis situations has become more participatory. This has been proven many times recently - including for example the speed with which people shared information (and disinformation) on social media regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the reliance on victim status updates via mobile devices during the 2015 Paris terror attacks.

In this sense, the subject of this paper includes an analysis of the role of social networks as modern communication channels in crisis situations, with a special focus on positive practices. Also, the aim of this paper is a detailed analysis of the use of social networks on the example of the war in Ukraine.

2. Social networks and crisis communication

In a situation where there is a disruption of the established ways of acting on which the normal functioning and survival of the community depends, crisis conditions arise and could be caused in two ways by natural and/or artificial factors. In that situation, there is a need to activate crisis communication with the community in order to amortize possible consequences as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Crisis communication represents "a special area of public relations that includes the prediction of potential crisis events, preparation for them, crisis resolution and communication with the affected and other key publics of the organization, and after analysis and crisis assessment" (Novak, 2001, p. 207). Fearn-Banks (2009) also believes that crisis communication is an important part of crisis management and underlines the importance of verbal, visual and/or written interaction between the organization and its public, before negative events, during and after them, i.e. in all stages of the crisis. Accordingly, Coombs (2005) uses the term crisis communication in two cases: 1) crisis communication as information and 2) crisis communication as a strategy. Crisis communication as information refers only to the collection of data and their sending during the duration of the crisis. While communication as a strategy refers to the use of information in a high-quality and systematic way that will contribute to calming the crisis situation. And it is precisely this second way that opens the possibility to mitigate the effects of the crisis through communication, as well as to respond in a high-quality manner to all the challenges that come with it.

Something that particularly characterizes every crisis is the interest of all participants in information, therefore it is important to take into account many factors with the aim of providing quality, clear and accurate information that will reach the end users quickly. In the literature dealing with a broader analysis of crisis communication strategies, seven key rules of crisis communication are often mentioned. Covello and Allen (1988) state the following:

  1. Involve the public and accept it as a partner - the main goal is to produce an informed public that, by its own actions or lack of action, will directly or indirectly influence the faster mastering of the crisis, as well as the reduction of its consequences;
  2. Carefully plan your work, then evaluate it - the crisis communication strategy offers the possibility of creating different scenarios that will be aimed at different approaches that are highly desirable depending on the type of audience and the media that serves to transmit information;
  3. Listen to the public - empathy and trust are invaluable factors that influence the creation of a sense of community in moments when a crisis creates a sense of panic and fear among people;
  4. Be honest, fair and open - it is common knowledge that once lost trust is very difficult to regain, that's why you should be especially careful with the presentation of information;
  5. Cooperate with other credible sources - it is very important not to allow conflicting and confusing information to come from several sources that citizens consider credible;
  6. Satisfy the needs of the media - it is necessary to pay special attention to the traditional media and their desire for sensationalism, which is usually based on danger, not on safety;
  7. Speak clearly and with a touch of empathy - by expressing your emotions in your speeches, you show your attachment to ordinary people whose suffering is the greatest in moments of crisis, in this way you gain partners in the fight to overcome the crisis situation.

However, even if all the mentioned rules are followed, there will inevitably be certain problems in crisis communication, precisely because of the unpredictability of the crisis, then the impossibility of establishing control, as well as the complexity of the event itself. Kešetović and Toth (2012, p. 113) distinguished three groups of problems. The first group of problems refers to the process of collection, selection, processing and flow of information during the crisis. During the crisis itself, the flow of information changes significantly, because decision makers are overloaded with information that needs to be delivered urgently to the right address. Additional problems are created by time pressure, which complicates the process of discerning the importance of the information that has been collected. Those responsible for crisis communication must also assess the public's need for information, so as not to cause panic and further deepen the existing crisis. The second group of problems relates to openness, legitimacy and credibility. It is known that information is accepted as reliable depending on the source from which it came. However, the willingness to show trust, which is one of the most important elements of the crisis, depends significantly on media reports. As such, they represent one of the simplest ways to disseminate information to the general public. In the circumstances of the general struggle for media space, sensationalism and yellowness in reporting, they state that "bad news becomes good news", and the tendency towards dramatization becomes acute. Therefore, it is clear that building a relationship based on trust between decision-makers and the media represents a major communication challenge in this process.

When the mentioned problems are analyzed more deeply, it is possible to offer social networks as a solution for certain items. The first mentioned problem refers in particular to the flow of information itself, which is much faster with the use of social networks. However, extra caution is needed when it comes to spreading disinformation. As for the problem of public trust, social networks can play a big role, but with a mandatory strategic approach that will enable citizens to gain trust in this form of communication even before the crisis. And last, but not least, are traditional media and sensationalism, which is by no means helpful in times of crisis. It is possible to deny all disinformations and sensational news in real time with the possibility of it reaching the general public in a quick and simple way.

Social networks are defined as "links that connect a person with another person, group, or information object, such as a message, photo, video, post, notification, current activity, event, etc. Such links ie. connections can be created by the system or by the user" (White, 2012). Živković (2011) on the other hand, considers social networks as virtual communities of groups of people who communicate in different ways using blogs, comments, telephone, e-mail and who share text, audio and video recordings, photos with each other for social, business and educational purposes. The greater possibility of interactions and individualization stands out as a special advantage and specificity of social networks compared to other channels for communication. On social networks, private or public virtual conversation between two or more users transcends time, space and cultural barriers (Puharić and Kobajica, 2016).

As stated by Bialy (2017) researchers in their considerations about the origin and the first social media usually start from 1980 and the Bulletin Board system (BBS) which operated on the principle of an online meeting room where certain games and other documents could be downloaded and leave messages to other users. The social aspect of the exchange was clear, however the interaction itself was very limited and slow. In particular, such a situation was conditioned by the level of technological development in that period, but not by the possibility of determining the identity of the person with whom one is communicating. In any case, BBS was the inspiration for all future platforms that were created with the aim of virtual exchange of information, ideas, opinions and views on some issues of common interest.

We can talk about a modern social network only in the early 2000s, when Friendster appeared on the Internet scene, which gathered more than three million users after just one year of existence. After that, a large-scale number of networks appears based on different spheres of interest. For example, in 2003, LinkedIn was launched, which is exclusively based on professional and business connections. A year later, Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues from Harvard created the social network Facebook, which turned into one of the largest and most successful social networks that today has 1.96 billion users (Dixon, 2022).

In 2006, Twitter was created to focus on online conversations. What sets it apart from others is the possibility of using a hashtag, the task of which is to group all messages on one topic in one place, which greatly simplifies the search. It is precisely the simplest way of conveying breaking news to the widest possible audience interested in that topic. Today, Twitter has 436 million active users, including presidents of states, politicians, diplomats, journalists, as well as various agencies and large companies. On January 15, 2009, a US Airways plane crashed into the Hudson River in New York. The picture posted on Twitter was the first picture and news about this event to go public, even before traditional media (Smith, 2020).

The latest data from 2021 shows that there are 3.88 billion social network users in the world. This number is the result of a 5% increase compared to 2020, when the number of users was 3.6 billion. Compared to 2017, there is a visible growth of as much as 32.2%, which translates into 920 million more users. Also, in the period from 2022 to 2025, Statista (2022) predicts an increase in the average annual growth rate of 3.9%. Such statistics are the best indicator of the extent to which social networks are used and how they record a growing trend in the number of users every year. On Graph 1, you can see the continuous growth of users of social networks in the period from 2017 to today, as well as estimates of the growth of the number of users until 2025.

Graph 1. Social media users on a global level, projection until 2025
Source:, accessed 08/18/2022

Research on the media habits of adults by the Council of Europe and the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2022) on a representative sample of respondents from all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina showed that 78% of the inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina actively use at least one social network. The most common social network is Facebook, where almost three quarters or 73% of the population have an active profile. Instagram (39%) and YouTube (38%) are used much less often. All other social networks are used by less than 10% of the population.

Also, the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina, conducted a survey on adequate information of citizens, and primarily young people, about the situation related to Covid-19 (2020). Out of the total number of respondents who answered the questions (3445), 86% of them believe that they are adequately informed about the situation related to the Covid-19 virus in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the sources from which the respondents get the most information are: the Internet (64%), television ( 30%), press and radio (2%), and other sources of information (5%). It is evident from this example that in recent years the Internet has taken precedence when it comes to crisis situations, because social networks serve as emotional support for citizens, whereby, as stated by Halilović et al. (2015), they turn to the opinions of others in order to rationalize their own attitudes and fears. Therefore, users of social networks simultaneously become sources and consumers of information: consumers because they consume the information they find on social networks, and sources by further distributing the information (Conner, et al., 2014).

Social media can be used as a primary means of communication or it can be used as an alternative or additional method of communication. Social media is an important channel for delivering real-time breaking news and breaking information, not only because citizens spend a significant amount of time using social media every day, but because citizens now expect to get the latest news from social media first. Social media change the way citizens get information because: 1. news usually appears first on social networks, 2. information crosses geographical borders faster, 3. citizens are informed from multiple first-hand sources, although often unofficial, 4. there is the possibility of commenting by active users of social networks, who further share and distribute the content. Also, Ipsos agency conducted an extensive survey in Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2021 as part of the "Strong" project, which showed that half of respondents (50%) use social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) daily as a source of news, compared with one fifth of respondents (21%) listening to the radio, while only 5 percent read newspapers and magazines daily for information (Skolo, 2021). Even journalists now look to social media to identify and report breaking news. Research conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Pro Educa Center for Youth Education (2016) showed that journalists use social networks in their work. The network most widely used by journalists is Facebook (90.9%), followed by YouTube (82.7%), Twitter (65.5%), Google+ (42.7%), Instagram (36.4%) and LinkedIn (25 .5%).

The role of social media and therefore social networks in times of crisis is a frequent topic of discussion among scientists and practitioners, who emphasize both the advantages and disadvantages of using them as tools in crisis communication. Ease of use, speed of information distribution, use of information from different sources, possibility of interpersonal and two-way communication are just some of the advantages. Halilović et al. (2015) also mention the possibility of interpersonal communication at the international level, which implies the possibility for experts from different parts of the world to be actively involved in solving a crisis situation in a certain area.

In the recent past, there are a number of examples when social networks played a key role in certain phases of a crisis. Palen et al. (2017) singled out the example of the shooting at the University of Virginia. After the University sent an e-mail at 10:16 a.m. on April 16, 2007. and recommended not to go out and stay in closed spaces, students turned to exchanging messages via social networks such as Facebook and this activity and visibility on the net helped easier and faster detection of injured and victims. In less than 4 hours, the University confirmed the final number of 32 victims of the shooting.

Also, another example comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which in May 2014 suffered the worst floods in the last 120 years. Precisely because of unpreparedness but also because of the speed of the development of events, institutions and state media did not manage well in a situation where there was a lack of information. On the other hand, conscious individuals and different organizations have managed to gather all the necessary help for the affected areas by successfully coordinating the use of social media.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is one of the most remarkably examples of a government agency using social media to connect with the public. Namely, FEMA actively maintains its Twitter account, which it uses to spread information in times of crisis, but also to prepare in the event of one. According to OhMyGov media monitoring data, FEMA's profile is among the ten most popular of all US government departments and agencies, with more than 836,000 followers. The fact that since October 2008, when the profile has been in existence, they have published 30,200 posts with various information regarding prevention and response in times of crisis also speaks of their promptness and desire to be as close as possible and available to the public.

Griffin (2018) states the triple benefits of social networks during a crisis, namely: prevention - social networks should be included in crisis communication plans, should expand the circle of followers and positive reach, and develop positive opinion; intervention - social media should share information/news with your community confirming or denying rumors and responding to comments and concerns and postvention - social media should be used to share information about crisis resolution and confirm its completion. In order for communication on social networks during crisis situations to be beneficial, it is advisable to stick to certain tips, steps and principles. Thus, Griffin (2018) lists five tips for the successful use of social networks in crisis communication:

  1. be active and continuously present on social networks;
  2. include social networks in your crisis communication plan;
  3. build a strong team for crisis communication on social networks;
  4. be creative when sharing information;
  5. Connect social networks and your official websites.

In a scientific article entitled Crisis communication, learning and responding: Best practices in social media, Lin et al. (2016) highlight the best practices of crisis communication using social networks. At the beginning, they start from the necessity of including social networks in their security plans and action policies, especially the crisis communication policy. For example, the aforementioned US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross developed social media policies for different situations and provided regular training with updated versions of tools, technologies and strategic plans for further emergency response missions (Veil et al. , 2011). As a next item, Lin et al. (2016) state the importance of regular activity and continuous presence on social networks, which means that communication on networks during an emergency should allow for conversations that can be followed and joined by a larger group of followers or information seekers. In addition, local populations commonly serve as eyewitnesses for timely reporting of ongoing crises and disasters such as the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (Lachlan et al., 2014). Therefore, instead of passively disseminating risk and crisis information online, crisis headquarters should fully adopt social media technologies for two-way communication in crisis situations to monitor users online activities. Moreover, engaging in a continuous online dialogue about risk and crisis communication would encourage the public to continuously monitor emergency services online, making social media feeds primary sources of risk and crisis information for future events.

On the other hand, the distribution of a large amount of unverified information is often cited as the biggest negative of the use of social networks, which is mainly the result of the pursuit of sensationalism by the conventional media or is driven by the pathological egoism of the individual. Wilson (2012) points out the inaccessibility of information to the elderly as another objection, as well as to all others who do not possess an appropriate level of information literacy or skills, which is why they are often deprived of essential information. Also, the question of information literacy, that is, the assessment of the accuracy of information that comes into the air, appears to be a very big problem.

3. Social networks in times of crisis – the war in Ukraine

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, marking the beginning of Europe's largest war since World War II. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has caused global anxiety, once again bringing the world's military powers into conflict and potentially forcing an intervention that could lead to one of the biggest conflicts in history. Interest in the events in that part of Europe is at a high level. Major news organizations around the world have engaged journalists in Ukraine to cover the bombings and violence in hard-hit towns and cities via electronic, digital and print media. Journalists, civilians and politicians – most notably Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – have also turned to social networks such as TikTok, Telegram and Twitter to document the horrors of war for a global audience in real time. The virtual battlefield ranges from disinformation campaigns on social media to hackers trying to breach the security of government accounts and websites. That is why this war has been called the first TikTok war or the First World Cyber War. The war raging in Ukraine is being waged on several levels. The first level includes the use of weapons, and the second, certainly, the use of information and communication technologies. And indeed, both sides in the war use social networks both to spread information and disinformation. At the very beginning, Ukrainians used social networks to gather public opinion and seek support in the form of putting all available forces on standby for combat readiness. Videos of President Zelensky walking through devastated cities emphasizing the importance of the fight and his willing to defend Ukraine against the enemy have been shared by users globally. Having previously used Telegram during Ukraine's 2019 presidential campaign, the president's team was able to rely on existing infrastructure as the messaging app turned into a major front in the information war. In addition, very soon after the start of the invasion, Ukraine assembled a virtual army to combat disinformation. Mykhailo Fedorov (2022), Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation has already openly invited people to join the IT army in his post on Twitter:

"We are creating an IT army. We need digital talent. All operational tasks will be given here: There will be tasks for everyone. We continue the fight on the cyber front."

The very fact that this tweet was posted just two days after the invasion began speaks to the level of importance the Ukrainian government has placed on cyber threats. But not only that. On the day when the attacks on the territory and the population began, the attack on the cyberspace also began. The mentioned Ukrainian minister[1] confirmed the above on his Twitter. Also, some of the first moves were inquiries and pleas sent to social networks to block access to Russian citizens in order to try to animate the youth to stop President Putin in his efforts. At the end of 2019, a Security Forum was held in Lviv, dedicated to preserving Ukrainian sovereignty and opposing the interests of neighboring states, at which it was concluded that Ukraine is a training ground for cyber warfare. The main weapon in this kind of war is information, often untrue (Pavlić, 2022). Hodžić (2023) stated about Ukraine, according to the latest report of the Estonian intelligence service, that Russia is trying to prevent the Ukrainian government from sharing information with its citizens, instill fear and distrust in the state's leadership, weaken society's resistance, and create information noise that makes it difficult to distinguish reality from disinformation. In recent examples available, according to ENISA Threat Landscape 2022, several types of destructive malware have been identified in Ukrainian cyberspace that attempted to disrupt services over the past year. In January and February, WhisperGate malware in Ukrainian computer networks directed attacks to deny services on the websites of Ukrainian state institutions and banks. HermeticWiper has been used for information systems of Ukrainian government agencies, the IT sector, and the energy and financial sectors. AcidRain carried out a cyber attack on Viasat subsidiary KA-SAT by installing malware, CaddyWiper in the critical infrastructure of Mykolaiv and Kyiv region, while Prestige ransomware targeted the information system of Ukrainian and Polish logistics and transport companies. This amount of destructive malware has never been seen in such a short period of time. Analyzing in retrospective way, the disruption of the 2014 elections and the temporary shutdown of the system of the Election Commission of Ukraine did not cause a significant impact on the elections or the counting of votes. Sabotage of the electric grid and temporary blackouts in 2015 and 2016 did not have a particular measurable economic or psychological impact. The temporary disruption of public infrastructure and business due to NotPetya, the permanent destruction of data and economic damage in 65 countries in 2017 is an all too familiar case. Therefore, this line of cyber operations shows that forms of this type of non-kinetic cyber warfare are not strategically irrelevant, nor are sudden more serious cyber attacks impossible. Above that, given that social media is used as a modern means of information, disinformation has proven to be a dangerous tool for disrupting Ukrainian defense and democratic societies abroad.

Indeed, for more than a decade, digital platforms have played an important and growing role in crises, conflicts and wars. As in Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Syria, people are using the platforms to document human rights violations in conflicts, condemn crimes, appeal to the international community for action and massive humanitarian aid. Platforms are also spaces where governments and others spread disinformation, incite violence, coordinate actions, and recruit fighters. The war in Ukraine is no exception. This battle is also taking place in the age of social media, with disinformation campaigns and hoaxes contributing to the growing maelstrom of information, which can confuse, distort and obscure what is actually happening in this region of Eastern Europe (Bergengruen, 2022).

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, social media companies have taken a number of steps to combat harmful disinformation, flag or block state-sponsored or state-sponsored media, and introduce additional security measures. Russia is facing major problems due to the pro-Ukrainian public opinion in the West. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken steps to remove Russian disinformation and have restricted Russian news sources.

In accordance with the above, as well as in order to contribute to the examination of the fundamental dynamics of the influence of information and disinformation on the war in Ukraine, this paper will try to answer the following two questions: 1. how are social networks used to spread competing national narratives and disinformation in times of crisis? and 2. What is the role of social media owners and government policies in limiting disinformation?

3.1 How are social networks used to spread competing national narratives and disinformation in times of crisis?

It is clear from the previous paragraphs that both sides are using social media extensively to present their versions of the unfolding events. Government officials, citizens, and government agencies have turned to a variety of platforms so it is very difficult to determine the exact amount of content posted by these various actors, but the scale of information about the war being posted on social media is enormous. For example, in just the first week of the war, videos from a range of sources on TikTok tagged #Russia and #Ukraine garnered 45.7 billion views, according to Foreign Policy Analytics (2022). At their core, the narratives presented by Russia and Ukraine are diametrically opposed. Russia describes the war in Ukraine, which Putin insists is a "special military operation", as a necessary defensive measure in response to NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe. Putin also frames the military campaign as necessary to "denazify" Ukraine and end the Ukrainian government's alleged genocide against Russian speakers. In contrast, Ukraine's narrative insists that the war is aggression, emphasizes its history as a sovereign nation distinct from Russia, and portrays its citizens and armed forces as heroes defending themselves against unjustified invasion.

The use of social networks in war is not new. During the Arab Spring and the ongoing civil war in Syria, various parties used them to organize demonstrations and sway public opinion in their favor. The difference today lies in a new kind of storytelling. As more and more people own cell phones and regularly document their days on various social platforms, war has become a topic like any other. Young people share their experiences in real time. In the midst of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, some Ukrainian influencers have turned into resistance fighters, version 2.0. Anastasiia Lenna, Miss Ukraine 2015, has ditched her glamorous gowns and now appears on her Instagram profile in war gear and holding a rifle, calling on her compatriots to defend their country. The Ukrainian military also has its own Twitter account Defense of Ukraine as offical page of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine that provides hourly updates on the war to more than 1,8 million followers. The armed forces of that country show images of combat (Brumfiel, 2022).

A fake and heavily manipulated video featuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been circulating on social media, and hackers successfully uploaded it to a Ukrainian news website before it was exposed and removed. The video, which shows the Ukrainian president telling his soldiers to lay down their arms and surrender the fight against Russia, is a so-called deepfake that lasted about a minute. It is not yet clear who created the deepfake, but government officials in Ukraine are warning of the possibility that Russia is spreading manipulated videos as part of its information warfare. The Ukrainian military intelligence agency released a video shortly before this event on how state-sponsored deepfakes can be used to sow panic and confusion (Allyn, 2022).

The mix of narratives, true and false, originating from various state actors as well as millions of individual social media users, has increased the roles of technology platforms in shaping the dynamics of war and could influence its outcomes. Some Russian celebrities have chosen to voice their disagreement with the government's actions despite the risks. One of the most popular rappers in the country, Oxxxymiron (2020), announced on Instagram that he decided to cancel six concerts in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. "I cannot entertain you while Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine and some people in Kiev are forced to hide in basements or in the subway while others are dying," he said in the video.

Experts in the field of information warfare, political analysts and researchers at the summit called the Social Media Summit, which was held on March 31, 2022, specifically referred to the situation in Ukraine and Russia and the war being waged on the virtual front. TikTok and video have emerged as the ultimate weapons in this new information war, explained Clint Watts, a researcher at the Foreign Policy Institute. "I think modern democracies will have a lot to learn," Watts said. "All the norms and rules of war have changed, because this is the first war that is directly waged through social networks. For example, he said, Ukrainian soldiers conduct psychological operations against their opponents by sending text messages directly to soldiers on the front lines" (Aral et al., 2022).

However, social networks are also used for positive purposes. For example, Natalia Levina, a professor of information systems at the NYU Stern School of Business, who grew up in Ukraine, said at the summit that she uses social media to communicate with relatives and friends and organize evacuations for the elderly and sick. Also, it is only necessary for someone to announce on Facebook that some medicine or medical device is missing in some hospital, immediately people all over the world organize to get everything (Levina, 2022).

3.1.1 Russian propaganda on social networks

What represents a special aspect of observing the use of social media in the war in Ukraine is the capitalization of influencers for the direct spread of propaganda for the purpose of demoralizing the enemy, moralizing one's own forces, and recruiting third actors - foreign fighters. The above is used equally by Ukraine and Russia, operating on social networks such as Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, TikTok, VK, Facebook and so on. Social networks have become a new painful field where information and cybernetic systems are used as weapons, with the aim of creating new paradigms and forming attitudes and opinions. Due to its strategic importance, this is aimed not only at the enemy, but also at allies, but also at neutral actors who should and must be won over in order to reduce or eliminate negative consequences at the political and social level.

When talking about influencers and other media personalities, it is necessary to mention YouTube and Twitter accounts that spread Russian propaganda. One of the most important and important propaganda channels that advocates Russian aggression and comes from the region is the channel of Dejan Berić, a foreign fighter from Serbia who is fighting in Ukraine on the side of Russia. In his posts, Berić glorifies Russia and President Vladimir Putin, calls on the Serbian and Orthodox population to get more actively involved in the fight and help the "Russian Slavic and Orthodox brothers", and often calls for aggression against the legally and legitimately recognized Republic of Kosovo. Berić might have been just another in a series of influencers on social networks, if the true power of his recruiting activities had not been recognized, which he revealed in one of his videos[2] showing citizens of the Republic of Serbia undergoing training for warfare in Ukraine. Through his propaganda activities, Berić radicalizes the Serbian population, most often through short videos in which he speaks of a guaranteed Russian victory, the defeat of the West, as well as calls for participation in aggression. His channel is not the only Russian propaganda newspaper for the territory of the Balkans and the Republic of Serbia, but it is important because of the role of Berić, who is on the front line. On the other hand, the channels Balkan Info, HelmCast, Teša Podcast and Srbin Info host a diverse constellation of guests, who in their addresses to their followers in the Balkans spread Russian propaganda as well as radical, extremist and secessionist views that speak of the need for aggression by the Republic of Serbia on Kosovo, and to help the Republic of Serbia to the smaller Bosnian entity Republika Srpska to secede from the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aforementioned retrograde attitudes represent a colossal problem for peace in the region and at a certain moment may become the cause of low-intensity conflicts in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Kosovo and also in Montenegro. This is supported by the analysis conducted by the regional fact-checking network SEE check six months after the beginning of the Russian aggression. From February to the end of July, the six fact-checking platforms that make up the SEE Check network analyzed more than 1,396 media posts, as well as posts on social networks, which they assessed as manipulative and inaccurate (SEE Check, 2022).

The narrative about Ukraine as a "Nazi state" was built both in the media and on social networks, especially in Telegram groups, and then on Facebook and other platforms. The narrative about widespread Nazism in Ukraine was certainly "pushed" by numerous extreme right-wingers in that country, especially members of the Azov battalion, which plays one of the key roles in the Russian propaganda machinery. Social networks and portals have been spreading disinformation about Azov since the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine, such as those that they crucified and burned a Russian soldier or a photo of Zelensky with a jersey with the Nazi symbol on it, through incorrect claims that the Ukrainian general wore a bracelet with the same symbols, so to the "apparition" of Nazi salutes by Ukrainian representatives at Eurovision.

Also, there is a disinformation narrative in which Ukraine is accused of developing nuclear weapons, which seeks to justify Russian aggression against this country. All official sources indicate that Ukraine has not worked on the development of nuclear weapons, in accordance with the 1994 agreement, according to which it renounces such an option in exchange for Russian, American and British guarantees that it will respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within existing borders. Placing the Russian aggression against Ukraine in a context that would "justify" it, even went so far as to claim that Russia prevented NATO from starting the third world war with this attack[3]. The fabricated statements and quotes of Vladimir Putin are a frequent examples of disinformation glorifying Russia and its president.

3.1.2 Ukrainian propaganda in the fight for defense

When conducting a defensive and liberation war and war operations, the activity of conducting propaganda operations is also unquestionable, which also aims to increase the morale of one's own forces, demoralize the enemy, win over neutral actors, and increase the empathy of allies. Ukraine, in its war of liberation, also operates on social networks, spreading propaganda that has the aforementioned goals. Unlike Russian propaganda, which is present in the Serbian language and on the territory of the Balkans due to the proximity of relations between Belgrade and Moscow, Ukrainian propaganda is oriented towards liberal and democratic countries of the European Union such as Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Austria and so on, but also the United States The American States, which have the label of the most powerful country in the world. The goal of Ukrainian propaganda is to show the suffering of civilians and the atrocities of Russian soldiers in order to get the West, that is NATO, more actively involved in the armed struggle. Due to political and geopolitical implications, NATO cannot directly join the fight, but certain proxies and paramilitary formations can. A large influx of foreign fighters from member states of the NATO pact has been recorded, and social networks are responsible for this, which in a special infantile way equates the fight against Russia with Hollywood and other film productions and video games. Recently on Twitter, the official NATO account compared the fight against Russia to popular Hollywood movies like Star Wars, Avatar and Harry Potter[4]. This infantile example of propaganda is not without reason, because its primary target group is young people who grew up with the aforementioned films and who are consumers of Western pop culture.

Ukrainian propaganda on social networks, especially on Twitter, is widely present, both because of its nature of action - defense against aggression, and because of the influence of social media owners who have the opportunity to profit from paid posts. Unlike Russian activity, which is also present, the activity of Ukrainian influencers is supported by NATO members, especially the USA. More significant accounts on Twitter that talk about Russian aggression and Ukrainian defense can be divided into two groups - state and non-state. When it comes to government orders, they are as follows: Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU), Defense intelligence of Ukraine (@DI_Ukraine), Volodymyr Zelenskyi (@ZelenskyyUa) and Ukraine / Україна (@Ukraine). In addition to the above, there are many others that are owned by political and military Ukrainian officials.

When it comes to private orders, attention should be paid not to citizens of Ukraine, but to other persons coming from NATO countries or EU members. Notable Twitter accounts that operate as propaganda are: North Atlantic Fella Organization (@Official_NAFO), Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons), The Intel Crab (@IntelCrab) and Oryx (@oryxspioenkop). The aforementioned Twitter accounts are important for spreading information about the conflict, but also for the creation of specific narratives discrediting those who do not support Ukraine or have different, conflicting views. In addition to the above four accounts, there are many others who cover various topics through their tweets or discussions with those who support Russia.

In addition to Twitter, the social network Reddit is also important for propaganda, especially because it represents a so-called echo chamber in which users are stipulated to follow and accept certain ideas and attitudes. This is possible due to the role of subreddit administrators, who have the power to restrict or expel from the subreddit users who, for example, question Ukraine's various crimes and treatment of prisoners, as well as questions about financial and military aid packages sent by the United States of America. The impossibility of discussion and conflicting opinion enables constructions that will justify dishonorable military behavior or violations of the customs and rules of war that may be committed by Ukraine.

It is important to mention that certain Reddit users participated in the fighting on the side of Ukraine and posted the same publicly on their Reddit accounts and in subreddits like r/Ukraine, r/CombatFootage and the like because they saw the power of Russian aggression. On a couple of occasions, the mentioned redditors were injured because they provided the geolocations of the headquarters, forward command post and others in their posts, thus violating the principles of operational security (OPSEC). The mentioned participation in the war of foreign citizens - Finns, Swedes, Americans and others in the fight against Russia, directly indicates the power that social networks have, not only in propaganda, but in organizing and accumulating knowledge that is created by spreading advice, analyzes and reports to the wider population on networks.

The most notable example of this type of disinformation is the unsubstantiated narrative about a Ukrainian military pilot who shot down multiple Russian planes in mid-air combat. On social networks, he was called the Spirit of Kyiv, but his existence, as well as his alleged achievements, have never been proven or disproved. However, several portals from the region found that the clip shared on social media was proof of his combat victories, even though it was actually a clip showing a video game. This clip was shared by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, among others, on its Twitter profile. Similar to this, disinformation spread on social networks that Nataša Perkov, the first female fighter pilot in Ukraine, was also killed during the battle (SEE CHECK, 2022).

4. What is the role of social media owners and government policies in limiting disinformation?

The answer to the second question posed, which reads: What is the role of social media owners and government policies in limiting disinformation?, was sought on the official pages of the most used social networks, as well as on the profiles of their official owners. Most social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google – have taken steps to remove Russian disinformation and limit advertising in Russia.

Facebook is at the center of the flow of social media information inside the conflict zone, with about 70 million users in Russia and 24 million in Ukraine, roughly half of each nation's total population. Meta banned ads from Russian state media and demonetized those accounts, severely limiting the Russian authorities' capacity to use Facebook as an information vector. Russia, of course, has its own social media platforms and messaging tools, so there are other ways the Kremlin can communicate its activities and motivations to Russian citizens. But Meta has taken a hard line, while also restricting access to many accounts inside Ukraine, including those belonging to Russian state media organizations. In addition, Meta has also set up a special operations center, staffed by native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor trends in harmful content, while also adding new red flags when users go to share war-related images that its systems discover that they are older than one year. According to data from Hutchinson (2022), in February of this year Meta removed a network of Russian origin that presented itself as news editors from Kiev and published claims that the West "betrayed Ukraine and that Ukraine is a failed state". It also took down a network of about 200 accounts operated from Russia that coordinated falsely reporting people for various violations, primarily targeting Ukrainian users. The target also revealed activities linked to the Belarusian KGB, which published messages in Polish and English about Ukrainian troops surrendering without a fight and the nation's leaders fleeing the country. Meta also tracked activity linked to accounts previously linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA), which was the primary team promoting disinformation ahead of the 2016 US election, as well as attacks by Ghostwriter, a group that targeted Ukrainian military personnel , in an attempt to gain access to their social media accounts. In the second quarter, Meta reported that it had discovered a network of more than 1,000 Instagram accounts operating out of St. Petersburg that were also trying to promote a pro-Russian perspective on the invasion of Ukraine.

Twitter also wants to do more to limit the spread of harmful disinformation through its platform, implementing a new policy that should specifically limit the spread of disinformation in times of crisis, including armed conflict, civil unrest and more. The policy was developed in response to the invasion of Ukraine, and Twitter is now seeking to include its Ukraine policy in its official guidelines. As Twitter explains: “All over the world, people use Twitter to find reliable information in real time. In times of crisis – such as situations of armed conflict, public health emergencies and large-scale natural disasters – access to credible, authoritative information and resources is increasingly critical.” In principle, of course, Twitter's policy makes perfect sense – harmful disinformation and propaganda can have harmful effects, in many ways, and should not be allowed to be amplified through their app (Hutchinson, 2022).

It is also necessary to consider the economic and political aspects of limiting or spreading information on social networks, in order to better understand the propaganda role of various actors. Social networks are first of all owned by non-state actors, but there is a constant link between the state and non-state actor (corporation/owner). The earnings of social networks are primarily based on advertisements and the purchase of premium accounts that carry certain benefits (greater interaction, wider reach to the audience, visibility and so on), but also, there are great chances that governments and other state actors pay social networks for the promotion of certain content in order to form attitudes and opinions. The recent discovery of the cooperation between the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and certain members of Twitter's board of directors, speaks of the real possibilities for conducting a special war. Researchers from the American The Intercept have done documentation that talks about the propaganda activities that are supported by Twitter. Fang (2023) states the following in his report: "On July 26, 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, at the time an officer working at U.S. Central Command — also known as CENTCOM, a department of the Department of Defense — emailed a Twitter representative with the company's public policy team, requesting to approve single-account verification and a "whitelist" of Arabic-language accounts "that we use to amplify certain messages."

The above directly points the involvement of the state and private companies in order to create attitudes in the Middle East that favor American foreign policy and military activities that have been disastrous and deadly in the Middle East. Brutal capitalism, as well as the pursuit of perpetual financial profit, allows the state and its institutions to influence private companies that become complicit in antagonistic activities directed towards other states, peoples, ethnic groups and communities. In this way, it becomes possible to justify aggressive goals against others who have in their background the acquisition of resources - natural, financial, personnel or some other.

Today, social networks are only weapons used by state actors, and they should be viewed as such because their true nature and purpose is capital acquisition, not moral and ethical judgment of decisions, wishes and demands.

5. Conclusion

Social networks have become the main means of communication in the world. On these channels, people share their thoughts, conduct constructive dialogues on daily issues, as well as slightly more complex political ones. Also, more and more people are turning to social networks to find out where something is happening. Considering the economic profitability and potential in the speed of placing information, as well as ensuring that this information reaches the largest number of users, social media represent one of the most important crisis communication resources in today's time, whether it is a natural disaster or war conflicts. In order to use the most of these platforms in all phases of crisis management, organizations, individuals and authorities should approach this issue strategically in order to be ready to react anytime and immediately. It is clear and common knowledge that the Internet, along with new technologies created to use it, such as smartphones, is changing the way we communicate. However, when it comes to communication in crisis situations, it is important to point out that social networks are not only an effective tool for monitoring and involving public discourse during the crisis process, but also enable a cultural shift in relation to how the public views its role in the crisis, which has become more participatory.

After thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than eight million Ukrainian refugees, on the one hand and with Russia now accused by the international community, the war in Ukraine continues to attract world attention. The invasion of Ukraine began a year ago, and its dramatic consequences are already being felt by citizens all over the world. However, as the conflict spreads, it is increasingly clear that the biggest change will be visible in the way of warfare, in which information technologies occupy a special place. As previously mentioned from a Clint Watts, researcher at the Institute for Foreign Policy at the Social Media Summit, it can be hinted that social networks today and in the future will play a very large role in all spheres of social development, especially in crisis situations.

6. References

Allyn, B. (16. Mart 2022). Deepfake video of Zelenskyy could be 'tip of the iceberg' in info war, experts warn. Preuzeto 15. August 2022 iz npr:


Bergengruen, V. (15. Mart 2022). 'It’s Our Home Turf.' The Man On Ukraine's Digital Frontline. Preuzeto 16. August 2022 iz

Bialy, B. (2017). Social Media—From Social Exchange to Battlefield. The Cyber Defense Review, str. 69-89. Dohvaćeno iz

Brumfiel, G. (19. Mart 2022). Reasons why social media can give a skewed account of the war in Ukraine. Dohvaćeno iz npr:

Coombs, W. T. (1999). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding. Sage.

Covello, V. T., & Allen, F. W. (1988). Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication. Protection Agency, Office of Policy Analysis.

Dixon, S. (2022). Number of monthly active facebook users worldwide. Dohvaćeno iz Statista:

Fang, L. (20. 12 2022). Twitter aided the pentagon in its covert online propaganda campaign. Dohvaćeno iz The Intercept:

Fearn Banks, K. (2009). Crisis communications: A casebook approach. Erlbaum.

Griffine, S. (2018). 5 Steps to Using Social Media for Crisis Communications. Dohvaćeno iz finalsite:

Halilović, N., Fazlić, A., & Kobajica, S. (2015). Utjecaj glasina na proces kriznog komuniciranja. Zbornik radova VIII konferencije„DANI KRIZNOG UPRAVLJANJA“ (str. 931-942). Veleučilište Velika Gorica.

Hasanagic, S., Papović, M., & Lević, E. (2022). Studija o medijskim navikama odraslih u Bosni i Hercegovini. Dohvaćeno iz Regulatorna agencija za komunikacije:

Hodžić, K. (2023). Ruska nostalgija i ukrajinska slava; Ruski ciljevi ostaju nepromijenjeni., accessed 24.2.2023.

Kešetović, Ž., & Toth, I. (2012). Problemi kriznog menadžmenta.

Lachlan, K. A., Spence, P. R., & Seeger, M. (2009). Terrorist attacks and uncertainty reduction: media use after September 11. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 1(2), str. 101-110.

Lachlan, K. A., Spence, P. R., Nelson, L. D., Lin, X., Najarin, K., & Del Graco, M. (2016). Social media and crisis management: CERC, search strategies, and Twitter content. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, str. 647-652.

Lachlan, K. A., Westerman , D. K., & Spence , P. R. (2010). Disaster news and subsequent information seeking exploring the role of spatial presence and perceptual realism. Electronic News, str. 203-217. doi:10.1177/1931243110387092

Lin, X., Spence, P. R., Selnow, T. L., & Lachlan, K. A. (Decembar 2016). Crisis communication, learning and responding: Best practices in social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 65, str. 601-605.

McIntyre, J. J., Lachlan, K., & Spence, P. R. (2012). Attending to the future: the role of learning in emergency response. Journal of Emergency Management, 10(1), str. 41.

Mirenić, A. (2015). Važnost komunikacije u prevenciji posljedica krize. Zbornik radova VIII konferencije „DANI KRIZNOG UPRAVLJANJA" (str. 943-953). Veleučilište Velika Gorica.

Mykhailo, F. (26. Februar 2022). fedorovmykhailo/status/. Dohvaćeno iz Twitter:

Nelson, L. D., Spence, P. R., & Lachlan, K. A. (2009). Learning from the media in the aftermath of a crisis: findings from the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Electronic News, 3(4), str. 176-192.

Novak, B. (2001). Krizno komuniciranje i upravljanje opasnostima. Zagreb: Binoza Press.

Pavlić, M. (18. Mart 2022). Cyber rat - Dvije inteligencije rata u Ukrajini. Dohvaćeno iz

Perinić, J. (2009). Medijski tretman akcidenata, katastrofa i kriznih događaja. Zbornik radova II konferencije „DANI KRIZNOGUPRAVLJANJA“ (str. 180-192). Velika Gorica: Veleučilište Velika Gorica.

Puharić, P., & Kobajica, S. (2016). NOVA PARADIGMA KRIZNOG KOMUNICIRANJA– DRUŠTVENE MREŽE KAO SUVREMENI KOMUNIKACIJSKI KANAL. 9. Međunarodna naučno stručna konferencija "Dani kriznog upravljanja" (str. 457-467). Veleučilište Velika Gorica.

Rot, N. (1982). Znakovi i značenja. Verbalna i neverbalna komunikacija. Nolit.

SEE Check. (2022). Globalni narativi i lokalni akteri: 150 dana rata u Ukrajini i više od 1500 dezinformacija u regionu. SEE Check mreža organizacija za suprotstavljanje dezinformacija .

Skolo, A. (2021). SNAŽNI: Mediji bez mržnje i dezinformacija. SEENPM, Tirana, Mirovni institut, Ljubljana i Fondacija Mediacentar Sarajevo.

Smith, K. (2020). 60 Incredible and Interesting Twitter Stats and Statistics. Dohvaćeno iz Brandwatch:

Veil, S. R., Buehner, T., & Palenchar, J. M. (2011). A work-in-process literature review: incorporating social media in risk and crisis communication. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 19(2), str. 110-122. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5973.2011.00639.x

White, C. M. (2012). Social Media, Crisis Communication, and Emergency Management. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

[1] "It was a difficult night in terms of cyber security of Ukraine. We've been protecting our cyberspace all night. Ukraine is experienced and continues to counter continuous attacks on major sources of information. For now, everything is working stably. "Be calm and don't panic," Federov said. See more at: , accessed 08/15/2022.

[2] See more on: YouTube: Dejan Beric, Serbian volunteers on the training ground, 11.12.2022. , accessed 02/20/2023.

[3] See more at: No, Russia did not prevent NATO from starting the third world... (, accessed 02/20/2023.

[4] See the original NATO tweet at the following link:

Copyright (c) Annals of Disaster Risk Sciences
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.