Two weeks ago, only political leaders knew the president of Ukraine by his full name and former occupation. Today, Volodymyr Zelensky has millions around the globe deep in worry about him and his nation. Talk about the power of social media.
Since the inception of the social media era, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been the first major military face off. While Ukraine has tactically used the media to her advantage, Putin seems to fail woefully at this simple task. Perhaps, the fact that he has been in power long before the iphone era could be the reason for his stoic approach to problem solving techniques.
Zelensky’s and Putin’s intentions are very different. It is clear from their choice of words.
‘There will be no winners. And you will be pulled into this conflict against your will…whoever will try and stop us should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and you will face consequences that you have never faced in your history’.
Here, Putin, the warlord, in all his wisdom and confederation of intelligence experts, thinks it wise to threaten the world irrespective of the sanctions he knew it would bring. What should interest you is that this was not Russia’s first self sabotage social media plan. As a matter of fact, when this war loomed, Putin’s plan was to publicise videos of Russia’s dreadful military equipment ambushing Ukraine’s borders, all shot and released by the Russian defence ministry. How brilliant.
Seeing that is not working in his favour, Putin has devised an even more brilliant plan to confuse his enemies, by spinning media coverage to leave people confused about who is right or wrong in the war. In a new war segment called helmet cam, ‘Ukrainian’ soldiers are seen ‘invading’ Russia with cameras attached to their helmets, a very important battle component. To be honest, Putin’s social media moves begs the question of which president was indeed a comedian.
However, with Zelensky, we see a more genuine and different approach to solving Ukraine’s problems.
‘…if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves. And when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces’, the distraught President said in his speech to Russians.
Zelensky’s series of moving speeches are just but a fraction of moves he has made to appeal for freedom from Russia. Recently, the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, penned an urgent letter to Apple with a request to disconnect Russians from the App store and other Apple services.
Now, the Ukrainian President has publicly asked for the EU to fasttrack the country’s membership. Ukraine is fighting not only for themselves, but for EU security and other benefits too, through social media.
And we see that they seem to be winning the war, at least on social media. For example, the UN has called for up to $2B in aid for Ukraine. While bodies such as NATO, EU, UN and other concerned countries have shown support for Ukrainians by donating cash, fighter jets, anti-tank weapons and other military weapons, public accounts have been set up for individuals to also support.
But why is the world solely focusing on the Russia-Ukraine crisis? Countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have been world war zones for years but have not received as much coverage as Ukraine is currently receiving. As a matter of fact, in the heat of the Putin vs Zelensky war, the US has snuck up on Somalia with an airstrike for the first time since August. Also, in Myanmar, villagers were forced to flee from their villages after being attacked by fighter jets. Does this mean the rest of these attacks on the world are insignificant compared to Ukraine?
The truth is simple; Zelensky has mastered the art of social media. He has seen that everyday, people increase their voracious appetite for the media. What is consumed and how it is consumed shapes the human mind and perception and Zelensky has understood that. Video clips from him in Kyiv are swaying the world.
As such, should social media be the new route for hastening solutions to countries’ crises?
One thing is for certain, social media cannot stop the physical destruction of Russia’s bombs. But if Ukraine succeeds in clinching the peace it asks for, Zelensky will be seen as the man who used social media to buy the support he needs in defeating Putin.
Claire Mom is a Nigerian journalist.
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