Joshua Danton Boyd on how The Internet was so crucial in the recent Ukrainian revolts.
Since November 21st last year, Ukrainians have been occupying Independence Square in central Kiev. The movement soon became known as Euromaidan (Euro Square) as they fought for integration with the European Union and against closer ties with Russia. After attempts at violent dispersal from the police the protest quickly morphed into an anti-government movement that has failed to disappear. Just like the Arab Spring, Ukrainian protesters have made great use of the internet, something becoming the main weapon of modern-day activists.
Everything began after President Yanukovych had a last minute change of heart about a deal with the EU and suggested he was more interested in moving towards Russia. A single Facebook post sparked everything with Mustafa Nayem, a journalist and public figure in Ukraine, calling for people to head to Independence Square and protest against Yanukovych’s decision. With 1600 reposts and people heading to the city centre, it had all begun.
This simplicity of starting a protest is incredible. One man, one post. That’s all it takes when a person has a significant enough following online, although even then it doesn’t have to be huge. As long as people begin a chain reaction of sharing a message can reach millions with no cost and little effort. This is something the Euromaidan protesters have been acutely aware of since they begun to camp out in freezing conditions to fight the regime.
Hashtags soon popped up that gave a continuous stream of information as it happened. There was no need to wait for news reporters, you could simple watch the videos of what was going on as it happened. This, of course, is not unique to Ukraine – it’s not even unique to protests – but it has been used very effectively.
Of course, there’s a distinct problem with this. In a country where they speak Ukrainian and Russian, how do you disseminate information quickly so that the rest of the world can understand it? Euromaidan soon solved this by creating an online network of volunteer translators who would receive updates to translate and proofread before they were disseminated.
This was hugely important in circumnavigating the traditional methods of reporting which were often too slow. Now as soon as there was an attempt by the police to dislodge protestors or when activists disappeared – just like the leader of Automaidan (the vehicle arm of Euromaidan) – no one had to wait for a reporter speaking their language to tell them about it. The sooner information is spread, the quicker it can be acted upon.
Social media isn’t just about getting information out there though. Services like Twitter give us direct ways of contacting celebrities, organizations and news outlets. Euromaidan organised an effective campaign to utilise this. By coordinating a simultaneous outburst of pre-written tweets aimed at particular accounts, for an hour the internet was awash with calls for attention and action. Euromaidan was soon trending worldwide on Twitter and the movement continued to gain global publicity as influencers became more aware of the situation.
Live streaming has also been a big fixture of the protest. The world could tune in and watch every moment as though it was a live television show. Tuning in on one particular morning gave you the perfect view of activists and police trading molotov cocktails on Hrushevskoho Street. Obviously police officers shouldn’t be chucking petrol bombs at people, but it was now impossible to deny as thousands saw it as though it happened directly in front of them.
It hasn’t just been live footage that’s been important. Much sympathy for Euromaidan was gained with videos of police brutality going viral. Arguably the most important of these was the humiliation and beating of Mikhailo Gavrilyuk. This was a turning point that showed the police in Ukraine were not trying to quell violent movement, but were engaging in emotional punishment. The internet again proved it’s worth as an image of Gavrilyuk back at work inside the protest camp appeared.
Without the internet, Euromaidan was likely to still happen, but without it it may not have had the effect it has had now. Protests have spread across the entirety of Ukraine, even in the more pro-Russian East. Coordination and information sharing has been made simplistic and easy by the internet and, most importantly, it has allowed the protestors to keep pressure up on foreign governments and news outlets to not forget about them.
Euromaidan has proven that the internet is a weapon of incredible power.