This week, despite continued Russian terrorist attacks in Ukraine and a major G20 meeting in Indonesia, the question of Twitter’s possible demise dominated the feeds of many social media users. Twitter, at least according to some, is in a precarious technical situation.
What will it mean for the war in Ukraine if Twitter dies?
This is a relevant question, given the importance of strategic influence and information warfare in the conflict in Ukraine.
Twitter is communication tool of choice for many emergency servicespoliticians and academics, and has featured in several previous conflicts.
But the war in Ukraine has seen a Cambrian explosion in the use of social media – particularly Twitter – to share images and stories from inside Ukraine, disseminate war situation reports, develop efforts crowdfunding, tracking war crimes, and for government and non-government entities to conduct strategic influence activities.
War has always possessed a complex balance of physical, intellectual and moral forces. Influencing the thinking and actions of enemy commanders, political leaders, and elements of friendly and enemy populations is as old as warfare.
However, the advent of social media has provided the means to influence the leaders and people of their nations in more sophisticated and pervasive ways than ever before.
An essential source of information
The Ukrainian government has had an ever-changing agenda for influencing Western governments and soliciting help since the February invasion. Twitter has tens of millions of users in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. These are two important targets for official Ukrainian influence operations.
They are also massive providers of military and financial aid, which Ukraine would like to continue uninterrupted. Using official presidential speeches, humor and pathos, they are masters at leveraging social media to achieve strategic results.
Twitter has been a key source for Ukrainians, as well as foreign journalists and citizens, to obtain official information about the war from the Ukrainian government. Ukrainian Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov discussed how Twitter is part of Ukraine’s war effort.
Other heads of government in Europe, such as Kaja Kallas, Estonian Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Stoltenbergbuilt large followings and used their Twitter handles to share information and influence Western support for Ukraine.
This official use of social networks has been accompanied by the rise of citizen reporters on social networks. Thousands of online commentators – some accredited and experienced, some not at all – have gained a high level of influence among populations in Russia, Ukraine and many Western countries.
Of course, a range of other online platforms have been used by these commentators, particularly Telegram, but Twitter stood out for its simplicity and wide access by those in the Ukrainian war zone and beyond. .
The sun will rise again if Twitter fails
Some analysts have developed sophisticated cartographic products to follow the evolution of the war. Others shared images and videos.
Open-source satellite data also plays a role in operations in Ukraine and is shared on Twitter in daily or weekly updates on the conflict, as well as reports on damage from long-range strikes such as the one on the Kerch Bridge. Some commentators have become adept at using the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) fire information and resource management system to assess the level of artillery fire in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, a large number of pro-Ukrainian activists, operating under NAFO (North Atlantic Fella Organization), use Shiba Inu dog memes to challenge and oust Kremlin social media talking points.
guys too flood Twitter with memes criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his senior military leaders and have widely mocked Russia’s war effort. Their activities even gave rise to a new term, “bonking vatniks”. They have played an important role in the fight against Russian disinformation.
Of course, Twitter also has its risks. Information shared on the platform can be difficult to verify, and misinformation and disinformation are common. As a journalist said writes about the use of social media in Ukraine“We are still figuring out what ‘truth is victim first’ means in the age of social media.”
Ultimately, however, the sun will still rise even if Twitter fails. Plenty of other blogs and social media tools will fill in the gaps left by the ongoing shenanigans in San Francisco. Few offer the simplicity and ease of access of Twitter, but humans are extraordinarily adaptive. We will find new ways and use existing ones to communicate, network, share information and influence each other.
The war in Ukraine will continue no matter what happens to Twitter. If Twitter dies, we may have access to less information about the conflict. But one less stream on social media — no matter how large its user base — won’t have a significant impact on the current trajectory of the war.
The Russian army, having started this war, will continue its vicious attack on Ukraine. And the Ukrainians, as they have from the beginning, will adapt and persevere in the defense of their nation.
Mick Ryan is a recently retired Australian Army Major General and Strategist. He served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a strategist with the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. His first book, War Transformed, deals with warfare in the 21st century.