Donetsk don’t tell – ‘hybrid war’ in Ukraine and the limits of social media influence operations

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Maschmeyer, Lennart
Abrahams, Alexei
Pomerantsev, Peter
Yermolenko, Volodymyr
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Many fear that social media enable more potent influence operations than traditional mass media. This belief is widely shared yet rarely tested. We challenge this emerging wisdom by comparing social media and television as vectors for influence operations targeting Ukraine. This article develops a theoretical framework based on media structure, showing how and why decentralized and centralized media offer distinct opportunities and challenges for conducting influence operations. This framework indicates a relative advantage for television in both dissemination and persuasiveness. We test this framework against the Russo-Ukrainian conflict (before the 2022 escalation), contributing new data from a national survey and a new dataset of Telegram activity. We identify fifteen disinformation narratives, and, using statistical analysis, examine correlations between media consumption, audience exposure to, and agreement with, narratives, and foreign policy preferences. To explore causal mechanisms, we follow up with content analysis. Findings strongly support our theoretical framework. While consuming some partisan social media channels is correlated with narrative exposure, there is no correlation with narrative agreement. Meanwhile, consumption of partisan television channels shows clear and consistent correlation. Finally, agreement with narratives also correlates with foreign policy preferences. However, and importantly, findings indicate the overall limitations of influence operations
influence operations, disinformation, social media, television, effectiveness, fake news, effects, article
Donetsk don’t tell – ‘hybrid war’ in Ukraine and the limits of social media influence operations / Lennart Maschmeyer, Alexei Abrahams, Peter Pomerantsev, Volodymyr Yermolenko // Journal of Information Technology and Politics. - 2023. - P. 1-16. -