Cover: Tweeting Out Surveys to Pro-Ukraine Influencers

Tweeting Out Surveys to Pro-Ukraine Influencers

Exploring the Potential for Enlisting Support in the Information Fight Against Russia

Published Mar 24, 2021

by Todd C. Helmus, Krystyna Marcinek, Julia Nething, Danielle Schlang, Ryan Andrew Brown

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Research Questions

  1. Is it possible to support pro-Ukraine influential Twitter users with training, sharable content, and perhaps financial support that could enhance their impact with key audiences?
  2. Would these pro-Ukraine activists want such assistance?

Ukrainian populations that speak the Russian language or are of Russian descent might be appealing targets for Russian propaganda. RAND Corporation research from 2018 analyzing Russian-language Twitter feeds emanating from Eastern Europe identified two large and influential communities: one group of seemingly "pro-Ukraine activists" who oppose Russian influence and support Ukrainian democracy and another group of seemingly "pro-Russia activists" who disseminate Russian social media content and oppose an independent Ukraine.

RAND researchers used Twitter advertisements to solicit survey participation from the most-influential members of this pro-Ukraine activist community, influential members of the pro-Russia community, and a general population of Russian-language Twitter users from Ukraine. These advertisements successfully recruited 146 pro-Ukraine activists, 66 pro-Russia activists, and 1,103 general population respondents. The goal of this survey was to identify the extent to which pro-Ukraine activists used Twitter and other social media platforms to counter Russian influence in the region. The survey results demonstrate that a large percentage of pro-Ukraine activists support the United States and European Union and oppose Russia and its influence on Ukraine. Pro-Russia activists support Russia and have mixed views on the European Union and the United States. Large percentages of the pro-Ukraine activists also report using Twitter to help counter Russian influence. They take this activism to other social media accounts and to offline channels, including talking to family members or friends and — to a lesser extent — participating in advocacy groups.

Key Findings

Survey results suggest that the pro-Ukraine activists are eager to counter Russian influence

  • Large percentages of this sample reported using Twitter to help counter Russian influence, and they take this activism to other social media accounts and to offline channels, including talking to family members or friends and — to a lesser extent — participating in advocacy groups.
  • At least half of the sample reported being open to receiving additional social media training and most did not seem opposed to taking this support from the European Union, United States, or Ukraine. However, a hypothetical agreement to receive funding or participate in training does not mean that participants actually would do so.

Following a brand ambassador model would help connect influential users with training and content

  • This model would involve reaching out, building an initial relationship, and establishing trust with these activists. It might be possible to help such users join together to advocate for a unified and democratic Ukraine, increase awareness of particular Russian influence campaigns, disseminate memes or video content addressing media literacy, or identify Russian bots and trolls.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted by the International Security and Defense Policy Center within the RAND National Security Research Division.

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