How social media is helping to win the war for Ukraine
We always talk about social media in terms of business development on this platform; however, isn’t everything a ‘business’ when it comes down to it? For instance, the business of politics, it seems, is not immune to using the internet to get its messages out there.
Take the situation between Russia and Ukraine as an example.
Whether it’s a generational thing, social media is playing a huge part in Zelenskyy’s campaign (44yo) in comparison to that of Putin (69yo). Social media is ingrained in Zelenskyy’s actions, given that he was an actor and comedian and darling of the Ukraine media well before he became their president.
He used social media well during his presidential campaign in 2019, which resulted in him securing 73% of the vote—a landslide, by all accounts, in politics today.
Zelenskyy ensures his appeals for peace, and his vlogs that boost the morale of his soldiers and people, are broad
cast across social media, for the benefit of the rest of the world. He understands the power of the social platform and knows that it’s the quickest, easiest method to drum up support outside of his locality.
Being a comedian, humour plays a big part in Zelenskyy’s content—at least it did until recent weeks, understandably; his vlogs now have a solemness about them. It would be quite inappropriate to be joking on screen when so many Ukrainians are dying or being displaced, and he understands that.
That said, he still managed to poke fun at Putin in a very subtle way a few days ago…
Putin, over recent years, appears to have become quite paranoid about his personal space. This could quite easily be as a result of Covid social distancing requirements. Conspiracy theorists are convinced, however, that Putin is in poor health, having suffered either a stroke or cancer, and that catching Covid could be a huge blow to a damaged immune system—hence his obsession with keeping his distance from even his closest staff.
With many photos in the public domain demonstrating this obsession—where Putin delivers a brief via a very long table; him, sat at one end, alone, whilst everyone else is bunched
together at the other end—Putin’s administration put out a short video of him delivering a talk to a table full of women. Every seat at this table was full, and it appeared that Putin had got past the fear of someone sitting next to him. However, the eagle-eyed amongst us could see that this picture opportunity was actually Putin sitting against a green screen backdrop, evidenced by his hands seemingly going straight through a microphone on the table. It became clear that the microphone wasn’t actually a 3D physical object but a 2D flat image. In Zelenskyy’s subsequent nightly bulletin, as he signed off, he pushed his microphone out of the way to show it was a physical object—a clear dig at the Russian leader’s paranoia.
It also helps Zelenskyy’s cause that he’s popular (and handsome). Not only is social media (particularly TikTok) overrun with images and video from the Ukrainian president’s team, it’s also full of user-generated/created content swooning over the man. Zelenskyy visited a hospital ward that was full of injured Ukrainian soldiers and members of their public…when he came to a teenage girl’s bed, you could see she was visibly overcome at meeting her president. She said that he was all over TikTok, that practically every other video on the platform was about him. ‘So, we’ve occupied TikTok, too?’ was his reply.
The man isn’t daft. He knows that his appeal, his humour, the connection he has with individuals as well as large audiences are working for him across the internet. He’s used to inviting the camera into his life and how to present himself on screen. In comparison to Putin, who comes across as stiff and vexed in public, and who only does the bare minimum when it comes to appearances/PR, it’s easy to see why Zelenskyy is so popular.
People are calling for him to be Time’s Man of the Year, or a shoo-in for the next Nobel Peace Prize, given his commitment to staying in Ukraine and leading his people from the front. This stance was further cemented when Joe Biden asked him if he needed safe passage from Ukraine whilst the situation unfolded. Zelenskyy replied, ‘I need ammo, not a ride,’ which will surely go down in history as one of the most honourable, memorable quotes given by a leader. Whether this was off the bat or a carefully crafted response, it had the desired effect, and meme after meme appeared on all the major social media platforms.
It's been said that Russian bots have only used social media to discredit the outpouring of support for the Ukrainian president, adding into various comment streams that he’s simply a puppet of the US. Maybe it’s difficult to equally infiltrate a space that’s already been won by your nemesis, but it’s clear that Putin is missing a trick in thinking social media isn’t important in this day and age.