News / Europe

Ukraine's Social Media Revolution Years in the Making

A photographer takes photos of an opposition supporter during a march toward parliament in Kyiv, Feb. 6, 2014.
A photographer takes photos of an opposition supporter during a march toward parliament in Kyiv, Feb. 6, 2014.
Cecily Hilleary
When a Ukrainian women's plea for freedom went viral in February and received nearly eight million views, it demonstrated the power of social media in spreading the message of Ukraine's political reform.

Yulia Marushevska’s emotional YouTube plea spurred thousands of Ukrainians into the streets, but analysts say it is not the first time non-traditional media has helped shape Ukraine's social and political landscape.

Long before social media helped ignite the Arab Spring and other uprising in tense parts of the world, analysts say Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 was the first revolt to organize and promote itself via the internet.

It began in 2000.

The internet was still new to Ukraine: about 200,000 of Ukraine's 49 million citizens were web users.

Among them was journalist Georghiy Gongadze, who launched Ukraine's first online newspaper, Ukrayinska Pravda, or "Ukrainian Truth," a venue to expose government corruption and abuses of power.

It was also a risky enterprise in a country where as many as five journalists had been killed for criticizing the government.

But the internet was so new that the government paid it little attention.

That would change quickly as word about Ukrayinska Pravda got out.

Watch related video from Daniel Schearf - story continues below:
Ukraine's Protest Movement Fueled by Social Mediai
X
Daniel Schearf
March 15, 2014 3:12 PM
Ukraine's domestic political crisis has been overshadowed by Russia's moves on Crimea. But the social media that fueled anti-government protests are still active. VOA's Daniel Schearf has more from Kyiv.

Five months after the site launched, Gongadze disappeared. Weeks later his headless body was discovered in a forest more than 40 miles from home.

After a flawed investigation, the government suggested Gongadze had staged his own kidnapping or had an accident.

But an opposition leader shocked parliament and the nation by revealing secret audio recordings which suggested President Leonid Kuchma had ordered Gongadze's murder.

"At that time, the majority of the Ukrainian mass media were under the control of government oligarchs," said Volodymyr Lysenko, an information research scientist at the University of Washington.

Ukrayinska Pravda published transcripts of the so-called Melnychenko tapes, which boosted its readership from only a few hundred to more than one million.

Then Maidan launched, a website with the self-described purpose of "monitoring, defending, affirming and broadening constitutional rights and freedoms in Ukraine." 

Social media in the Ukraine was off and running.

"Only through the internet were people able to access authoritative information, including those tapes about Gongadze," said Lysenko, an expert in the use of the internet for socio-political change. 

"The internet now also allowed the Ukraine diaspora abroad — for example, here in the United States or in Canada — to watch what was going on live," he said.

Near the end of 2000, more than, 5,000 protesters marched in Kyiv, demanding an independent investigation into Gongadze's disappearance and the president's resignation.

There would be scattered protests for the next four years until the 2004, when rigged elections triggered the Orange Revolution.

The Orange Revolution

The 2004 polls pitted opposition favorite Viktor Yushchenko against Kuchma-backed Viktor Yanukovych.

Miroslaw J. Myj,  the author of a 2005 study on the role of the internet in the Orange Revolution, told VOA that by the time of the election, the internet had become the only source of reliable political information in Ukraine.

It was also a powerful tool for election campaigning, he said.

"If you couldn't put out a legal ad in a newspaper, you would have turned to the internet," said Myj, a professor emeritus at Widener University's School of Business Administration. 

"People realized you could attach political electioneering posters by email, you didn't have to deliver them," he said.

Still, by late 2004, only between two and four percent of Ukrainians were using the internet.

But most were university students or professors, journalists, researchers, young corporate workers or politicians — Ukraine's intellectual and political elite — and they constituted a powerful force for change.

On election day, social research groups conducted exit polls across Ukraine, which Ukrayinska Pravda published along with official government figures that varied significantly, and was concrete evidence that the vote had been tampered with. 
Pro-democracy groups like Pora and Maidan leaped into action.  Not only did they post information on the web, but via cellphone to thousands of registered cellphone users.  After only 17 days of protests across the country, the government called for new elections, and Yushchenko came to power.

Tweeting a revolution

The latest wave of protests began last November, when Ukraine suspended planned agreements with the EU in favor of reviving ties with Russia.  Several hundred Ukrainians gathered in Kiev's Independence Square to protest, and when police began to use violence against them, the crowds grew.

Joshua Tucker is Professor of Politics at NYU and one of four co-directors of the NYU Social Media and Political Participation Laboratory (SMaPP).  His group began collecting data on social media usage in Ukraine from the first day of the protests. 

"Initially we saw a much lower use of Twitter during the protests in Ukraine, for example, than we had seen in Turkey the previous spring, when there had been much, much more usage of Twitter — orders of magnitude higher," he said.

At first, SMaPP noticed that Facebook, not Twitter, was playing the bigger role in organizing the protests.

But as the protests went on, that began to change. 

"Every time there's a big moment in the protests, we see a surge in new Twitter accounts created per day.  And by the end of February, whereas before the crisis there were 50 new accounts created a day, by the end, we're looking at 600 to 800 accounts being created a day," Tucker said.

He says Ukrainians have become very savvy about using social media to reach international audiences.
 
"We see that one of the offers made by Yanukovych was rejected by one of the opposition leaders.  He rejected it using Twitter and he did it in English," Tucker said.  "And three hours later, it was in the New York Times—word for word."

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs