Navigating Social Media In Wartime – Is The Truth Still The First Casualty Of War?

After Russia’s attack, last week, social media proved an important channel for information dissemination in Ukraine. Individuals on the ground have found that social media platforms are a vital communication channel, which allows them to stay in touch with the rest the world.

However, misinformation has not been lacking from war zones. It has been more difficult than usual to navigate social media during wartime.

Social media is a useful tool in crisis situations, such as the one in Ukraine. Julianna Kirschner from the University of Southern California, lecturer in the Master of Communication Management program said that it can serve as a useful place for political and advertising organization.

But, disinformation and misinformation are rampant and it can prove difficult to discern what is true or false. Kirschner shared his thoughts via email about how communication between Snake Islanders and Russian warships went viral shortly before the outbreak of crisis. According to initial social media reports, Snake Island residents were believed to have been killed. Later, it was revealed that they had been taken prisoner after running out ammunition. They were unable to distribute the confusing reports via social media, leaving many users confused as to what really is happening in Ukraine.

Communication boils down to trust.

This is true for both individual communication as well as organizational communication. Trust is destroyed by misinformation, while truthful and verifiable information builds it. Trust and communication are vital, particularly in situations of crisis and executive stress,” said John Born (visiting assistant professor) and in residence for the Ohio University Master of Public Administration Program.

Social media trust problems are not something to be denied. Born suggested users should focus on the things they can control.

He continued, “Push information in as fast as you can and in as many formats as possible.” This is a contest for trust. The ball will not move if you shout from the stands. Make sure you have a strategy with honest messages, and then get on the field and try to win trust. Prioritize your priorities and allocate the resources and time necessary to ensure that misinformation is corrected and challenged as quickly as possible.

This is crucial to ensure a proactive communication defense. It doesn’t matter if something gets retweeted or shared thousands of times. It is easy to spread misinformation.

Born said, “Find faith in good and truth winning in the end.” It is not possible to win all the time, or for everyone. Communication is an ongoing marathon.

Social Media: The Power of Social Media

Russia has taken great strides in controlling the home narrative. It has taken steps to crack down on media non-state platforms and tried to sell Russians the notion that it invaded Ukraine to “denazify” them. Moscow also indicated to citizens it hadn’t attacked civilians, and has welcomed them as liberators.

The truth is out there, thanks to the many posts of Ukrainians to social media.

According to Dr. Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers assistant professor at the School of Nursing, Duquesne University, “The Ukrainians are able to leverage social media to their advantage and embarrass Russia and strengthen support around the globe.”

She said that sharing posts on social media has been an effective way to spread propaganda and help rally support for Ukraine. The posts are not always censored. This can help in the dissemination of information in real time.

There is a concern that social media platforms are so full of misinformation, and sometimes even disinformation, that they have serious credibility issues.

One of the issues with social media is its inability to see the truth. We often remove information that confirms or supports our beliefs because of confirmation bias. Nguyensteers explained that we are able to find articles supporting a specific position. According to the World Health Organization, social media is an epidemic. The problem is that there is so much information available to analyze and filter, it is easy for people to share material to confirm their biases, which could lead to misinformation being spread.

You Can Trust These Things

Given that there has been a lot of misinformation showing up – such as Ukrainians selling captured tanks on eBay – how can users know what is real and what isn’t? Although social media is not able to address this issue, it has proven difficult for people to know the truth about the initial casualty of war.

Born said, “Create resilience and approach all information with an’multi-source” authentication approach.” The messages and purveyors of misinformation can be difficult to detect and they often alter their methods and message. It is important to build trust in information. Diversify your sources of information. This concept is important for personal cyber-security as well as discerning truth and misinformation. Trust and communication are only possible through personal responsibility.

Kirscher added that users have other options to enhance their user experience. They can also monitor their social media accounts to make sure the algorithm only shows quality content. You could encourage them to follow trusted users or content. They can also share such content. You can find social content that will help you process what’s happening in Ukraine.

Reddit and Imgur are also well-known for providing comic relief in the form of memes.

Kirscher said that “many of these memes poke fun on political leaders and take their decisions out of context. But the more serious memes support solidarity with Ukrainian citizens and all those who protest the Russian crisis.” Social media can add to a complex situation, but they do have some merit. Social media users should be careful about what they are reading.

As with all serious news stories, however, it is important to be able to step away from the situation. While social media does not allow people to do any real good or assist those affected in Ukraine, constant attention can have a negative impact on one’s ability to make a difference.

Nguyen-Steers stated that, according to “the mean world syndrome”, people can see posts about Ukraine on their social media accounts frequently, which leads to a perception of the situation as more serious than it really is.

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