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The Ukraine Revolt: Observations from the Social Side
Posted on February 27th 2014
The violent unrest in Ukraine is certainly cause for alarm, as Western governments threaten harsh reaction if Putin and Russia intervene. From a media and social perspective, many feel someone is pushing what seems to be a Ukraine unrest agenda. Many wonder what is really happening in that part of the world. Here's a look at opinions within social on the matter.
What to Think of Ukraine Unrest – Concern First
What you are about to read is a social media analysis of press coverage and reactions to reporting on the Ukraine unrest. As the Sochi Winter Olympics ended Sunday, a young Russian we'd worked with covering the games bid me farewell with a chilling parting goodbye:
"Phil, as you watched the Ukraine, it is a large-scale revolution there, we are looking and fearing for our neighbors!"
This genuine and credible concern by a Russian spurred me to investigate further the machinations going on behind the news. Some insight into the revolt in Ukraine can be had by taking a look at not only who's writing about the events, but who's tweeting (consuming) the news.
Before I go on the reader should understand that any battle for control of the Ukraine is not some game played by Barack Obama, David Cameron, Andrea Merkel and Vladimir Putin. A shooting war in Ukraine could be the catalyst for a conflagration no citizen of any country could want. If the Cold War was so undesirable to us, seeing it again is a real possibility here.
Now for the Twitter sentiment.
Brand Ukraine Revolt
Using the deep analytics of a social media monitoring tool called Brandwatch, I’ve isolated some demographics attached to reporting and uptake of English language news surrounding Ukraine. First and foremost, looking at the media most predominant in reporting, I wonder whether the news is being reporting, or if opinion is flatly being manipulated. Several mainstream media outlets dominate where many should be seen.
Using the key term “Ukraine”, the first metric which popped from my PC screen this morning was the limited number of large media tweeting about the situation. For a story of such proportion it's logical to assume ALL major media would be "tweeting" Ukraine unrest. This is not the case. As the charts I provide show, a few media companies dominate this conversation online.
Among the few most prominent media are; The New York Times, CNN, BBC, The Guardian. The "tweet cloud" above from Brandwatch shows this in aggregate form (males only – females mirror in this case). The Guardian is by far the most active news outlet covering Ukraine in English. What’s most significant about their influence on the subject, the 330 plus mentions they’ve received in the last 7 days eclipse even The New York Times or AP. Is the UK pushing the hardest editorial and news wise?
As you’d expect the most “tweeted” and predominant Ukraine moment was an image of protesters dead and lined up with the #hashtags; #Yanukovych #regime #dictatorship and tweeted to @CNN @BBCWorld @AJAM @NYTimes. That tweet is from a self professed Texas “kickass environmental activist” WynnkWilson. That Twitter feed is a literal SPAM broadcast of nothing but digital “activism.” Also figuring prominently in Twitter, the legendary hacker/activist group Anonymous is in the mix mightily via @youranonnews. The reader will find most interesting the fact “executives” tend to tweet with Anonymous even more than journalists do. This was not a point I would have envisioned beforehand. In fact it can be said Anonymous has actually had the most impact on this discussion on Twitter. Their stream is broadcasting news like a tickertape compared to even the most influential mass media.
The Tweeps of Revolt
The debate rages between Tweeps (Twitter people) convinced the West is responsible for the unrest, and those vehemently supporting a perceived democratic upheaval. The Brandwatch metrics show users like Charles Edward Frith (in depth profile above) with 13916 followers tweeting tags and links aimed at western governments funding or instigating the unrest. At the other end of the Twitter influence spectrum, Anonymous followers like the Texas gardener below just seem to mirror local or trendy sentiment. However, diverse the discussion on Ukraine may be, the tone of sentiment seems to be neutral except in extreme and isolated cases.
Looking at “negative sentiment tab” journalist Rania Khalek stands out as a pundit against any real or perceived instigators from the west. For every “democratic revolution” tweet out there, there seems to be a Rania Khalek or two comparing Israeli injustices toward Palestinians to the current Ukraine upheaval. While the conversation rages on, the United States Department of State @StateDept tweets daily about Secretary Kerry or President Obama calling for calm and peaceful dialog.
Documentary film maker turned war correspondent Patrick Dollard (PatDollard) is the most dominant individual tweeter. Second to Dollard, Ruptly News Agency journalist involved in the Ukraine coverage for them, Katica Durovic tweets nothing but the news of late. Maybe the most influential and interesting journalists tweeting #Ukraine is freelancer Asteris Masouras. His latest is an RT via Rania (above) dealing with alleged US backing of so-called Neo-Nazis protesting there.
What’s the most disturbing trend for #Ukraine on Twitter? Brandwatch even allows for quantifying such things as emoticons. The image above created by filtering for the emoticon “cheeky” shows tongues sticking out to :P Putin, #Maiden, and right next to mentions of the dead piling up. That’s disturbing for me.
Awaiting the Inevitable – Putin’s Response Prospectus
Making heads or tails of what’s going on in Ukraine seems the obvious conundrum as I type this. Using Brandwatch and similar tools will no doubt produce useful and interesting facets of these stories. But this situation is destined to end, ultimately, as unrest in this region always has. Whatever perspective is taken, students of Russia history and politics will agree, Vladimir Putin will never allow his country to be shoved into the geographic corner by the EU or NATO. Obama and the other western leaders rattling sabers at Vladimir Putin seems foolhardy and hypocritical given wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring uprisings.
Historically the region occupied by Ukraine now has been crucial in the defense of the heartland of Russia. Whether or not the US and her allies have spurred this revolt in Ukraine, Russia will never tolerate the “breadbasket” of their part of the world to be annexed into NATO. As for EU membership, Russia herself might have even considerate that at a point. This sentiment may have been expressed best by former Kremlin advisor Alexander Nekrassov in this Aljazeera post:
“Still, the first and biggest casualty of the dramatic change of power in Ukraine is the EU, with its unsavoury role in encouraging the opposition to push for the downfall of the democratically elected President simply because he didn't sign a deal that was expected of him in Brussels. The way EU leaders and politicians from EU member countries visited Kiev, openly supporting the opposition would raise eyebrows of many people around Europe.”
The situation in Ukraine is as dire as can be where world peace and détente are concerned. “Is the world concerned?" you ask. The 61,000 mentions in the last 7 days shown distributed worldwide (image above) say yes. It will be interesting to research more into whether news today is actually propaganda or real fact. It’ll also be interesting to find out whether independent social media voices can reveal the real story. So far Twitter shows traditional media playing a big part, but which one?
More later after further analysis…
Image credit: Ukraine unrest - Courtesy Jordi Bernabeu via Flickr (Creative Commons)