Can a war be won through communication? The war in Ukraine is a striking example of communication’s key role, not least when it comes to the weaknesses and strengths of the warring parties.
Russia has launched a military war of aggression against Ukraine, and Ukraine is holding out militarily with strength and admirable fighting morale. It is not giving up its terrain — neither militarily nor in communication. Tireless, courageous and decidedly tailored to its target groups, Ukraine addresses the international community. It appeals to its responsibility, its common obligation, to respect international law and human rights.
Since the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian president has been appealing to government leaders and parliaments worldwide, the United Nations (U.N.) and the European Union (EU) to support his country. By the direction of his country’s people, he uses social media to show his presence, determination and readiness to defend Ukraine himself, and thus makes a significant contribution to unity.
The Ukrainian president Wolodymyr Selenskyj (or Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as others may be familiar with), Zelenskyy’s ministers and the mayor of Kiev and famous ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko, use all types of digital communication. They deliver news in real time via Twitter and address parliaments in Europe, the U.S. and the U.N. with video links — communication that signals both internally and externally that Ukraine is not giving up. It ensures that the war in Ukraine does not disappear from the screens and headlines of the European public.
Russia, on the other hand, is responding by shutting down all independent media voices. It shut down Facebook and closed off all independent broadcasters. One-hundred forty million Russians are not able to get independent news and do not have an access to free information. Only propaganda from their own regime reaches them, in which the war crimes of Butcha and Mariupol are declared as "stagings" on the part of Ukraine.
IABC EMENA PODCAST
Disinformation and Democracy With Ute Schaeffer
Hear more from Ute Schaeffer, who sits down with Monique Zytnik on the IABC EMENA Podcast. In this episode, Schaeffer dissects what disinformation is, when it is used, how it works and what it aims to do. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or SoundCloud.
The Ukraine war is the military continuation of a hybrid war of aggression waged by Russia against democracy, human rights and international law. Before the current attack in Ukraine — in the run-up to the 2014 invasion of Crimea — Russia had already mined, weaponized and declared the digital information space a war zone. It was a preparatory information strategy that used digital information and disinformation as a weapon of war — a tactic aimed at creating digital echo chambers in democracies around the world, in which Russian disinformation and propaganda was spread. Digital communication was used tactically by Russia in the aim to question, undermine and manipulate democratic opinion-forming through targeted information.
If Ukraine (and the rest of the world) is to resist Russia’s hybrid tactic, it needs a strong and comprehensive response. The key to resilience, in my view, is communication, especially in the current global crises. This poses new challenges for companies and the media alike. It is important to adopt a clear and value-oriented stance. We need to recognize and name disinformation and uphold accurate and factual research and communication.
A whole series of companies understood this early on and drew clear consequences. Puma, Coca-Cola and Starbucks, to name a few, stopped doing business in Russia. Others, such as the world's largest food manufacturer Nestlé, have to put up with harsh criticism for sticking to their Russian business. On Twitter, hundreds of users called for a boycott of Nestlé products, and the hacker group Anonymous also condemned the company's involvement in Russia.
The determined turnaround of companies is an indicator of how profoundly the Ukraine war is affecting Western societies. And with the digital communication tools we have at our fingertips, disinformation and propaganda can reach everyone worldwide. Therefore, while military and economic action is an important contribution to defend Ukraine, it also needs a society-wide effort to be more effective in limiting disinformation and propaganda, spread by Russia to attack European values, democracy and human rights in this hybrid war.
We can do this by significantly improving the digital information literacy of young users, honing their ability to distinguish fake from fact and recognize disinformation as such. Hybrid attacks on us will increase — communication can be used as an offensive weapon or an effective defense. We should work to achieve the latter.
IABC World Conference 2022 is proud to present “Stronger Together: Gift of Communications Idea Exchange” to benefit The Media Assistance Coordination Center, set up by The Media Development Foundation specifically to combat dis- and misinformation and to support journalists in Ukraine. All are invited to support this effort and donate! Gift of Communications participants at World Conference in New York will be randomly matched in pairs and encouraged to learn from each other — to be mentored or reverse-mentored, to brainstorm or run an idea by another professional communicator, or to gain insight into a different culture, industry or marcomms tool. Look for links to donate and participate soon!
International communication is Ute Schaeffer’s professional passion. As a journalist and publisher, her focus topics are digital communication and the role of disinformation; international policy and development; human rights; and the forward and backward steps in democratization worldwide. As an organizational developer, Schaeffer is working on establishing collaborative workflows and teaching organizations how to be fit for digital challenges. This article is a pure personal expression of opinion. Connect with Schaeffer on LinkedIn.