How Instagram has played a role in accelerating the Russia-Ukraine war

Apart from militarized weapons, social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Tik- Tok have become war weapons during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Instagram and Facebook have gained the spotlight since they made exceptions to their policies against promoting hate speech by temporarily allowing calls for violence for the death of Russian and Belarusian Presidents. As a result, the Russian government banned Instagram and Facebook while leaving people with access to limited and controlled information. However, Meta-owned What’s App has remained unaffected by the government rules. Social media has majorly impacted the war situation in Ukraine and Russia. Global chaos has been caused due to the spread of misinformation, rumors, and in certain cases fake videos.

Social media and the rampant spread of information

The Russia- Ukraine conflict has been “the most digitally viewed” war of the era. The social media war came off as unexpected for Russia thereby leaving it unprepared to tackle global challenges posed by the war. The Russian government led criminal investigations against Meta- platforms as it allowed information calling for death threats on the Russian and Belarusian President. The prosecutors are pushing for the Silicon Valley giant to be branded “extremist.” Instagram being the most popular media amongst youth causes rampant sharing without fact checking.

Instagram and Ukraine

According to Human Rights Watch reports “social media companies have chronically underinvested in responding to human rights challenges in countries around the world where people rely on their services. Ukraine is no exception.”

Instagram could have proved to be a useful tool for Ukrainians appealing to the international community and asking for aid. It could also have acted as a powerful tool in helping refugees to gain access to other countries and helping spotlight their stories of need. As a platform, Instagram has immense potential to help humanitarian efforts however it has not revised its policies to suit the need of the hour.

The misinformation by the Kremlin has led to Instagram being bombarded with false information. This could be misleading for people and organizations who wanted to help the Ukrainian government and citizens of Ukraine.

However challenging it may have been, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has used the media to gain support and encourage citizens to act promptly. This has created a positive image for Ukraine on the International front. Moreover, the President has appealed to tech giant owners to cut-off their services in Russian regions thereby encouraging a reduction in misinformation.

Impact on Russian citizens of banning Instagram

Facebook and Instagram are the most used social media platforms used in Russia and the latter is used mostly by the youth. Social media posts against war and Putin became more prominent as Russian citizens including influencers and celebrities took to the media to condemn war. When the Russian court trials labeled Instagram and Facebook to be “extremist” they suspended almost all their services in Russia.  80 million people in Russia are cut off from Instagram and Facebook and do not have access to global viewpoints via the platform about the Russia-Ukraine war. This might increase polarization in the future as well as the prominence of Russia to spread propaganda internally among its citizens.

Instagram was blocked on March 13th 2022  notifying it’s users about the same. Not only did it cut off people but led to the shutdown of many small businesses which depend on social media for advertising, processing sales, and keeping in touch with their consumers. Russia gave many other excuses like the psychological health of children and adults to ban Instagram and Facebook in the region.

Russia claims that social media “allow calls of violence against Russians is a breach of International law.” This allows for the Russian government’s monopoly over the information being supplied to the Russian citizens. Soon, they might find themselves in the dark and cut off from what is ongoing in the real world. People in restricted-access countries like Russia and China have started to make use of VPNs to get through barriers and access information.

The Russian population which was heavily affected by the Instagram ban led to  the use of VPNs in Russia peaking at 2,692% on March 14, the same day the Instagram ban went into effect thereby showcasing resilience internally in Russia to stay connected with people across the world.

Conclusion

For Instagram to prove to be more useful in future wars it must restrict its information spread and must allow certain verified accounts to post selected information. Moreover, allowing death threats on the platform, even temporarily, has played a role in accelerating war in the region. Promoting calls for violence against the President of any country is extremist and goes against the policy of unbiased information sharing on the platform while increasing hate speech.

Instagram should ensure to play a more unbiased role as an information sharing platform. Moreover, content should be shared with appropriate trigger warnings. The platform must not allow sensitive content to be accessible to everyone and must take efforts to immediately take down any information proven as false. It is important to regulate false information shared on the platform.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.