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Social Media and EuroMaidan: A Review Essay

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As more than a billion people had done previously, on November 21, 2013, Ukrainian journalist and activist Mustafa Nayem wrote a Facebook post; this post, however, would have a much larger impact on subsequent political developments than most that had preceded it. Frustrated with President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a long-promised association agreement with the European Union, Nayem asked others who shared his frustration to comment on his post. Even more importantly, Nayem wrote that if the post received at least 1000 comments from people willing to join him, they should all go to Independence Square to protest. And indeed they did: starting with just a few thousand people, the protests would swell to be the largest since Ukraine’s independence, particularly after police used force against protesters at the end of November 2013. Eventually, these protests led to the resignation of the government, the exile of the former president, and indirectly to the secession of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country.

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References
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1. Both authors contributed to the design and arguments of the article, as well as the revision and editing of the manuscript. Metzger wrote the first draft and conducted the review of the literature.

2. As we complete the final edits on this article, this pattern of protest springing from a single Facebook post has once again been replicated in the January 21, 2017 Women’s March, only this time the post in question was written not by a known activist or journalist, but rather “a grandmother in Hawaii,” at www.washingtonpost.com/national/it-started-with-a-grandmother-in-hawaii-now-the-womens-march-on-washington-is-poised-to-be-the-biggest-inauguration-demonstration/2017/01/03/8af61686-c6e2-11e6-bf4b-2c064d32a4bf_story.html (last accessed January 25, 2017).

3. The data analysis was conducted using data from the New York University Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab (https://wp.nyu.edu/smapp/), where Tucker is a Co-Director and Metzger a Graduate Research Associate.

4. Examples of social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, VKontakte, and Instagram. At the edge of this definition lies a number of platforms that are designed to facilitate communication between select groups of individuals such as Facebook Messenger, iMessenger, Snapchat, What’s App, YikYak, and Zello, but which do not really involve creating content so much as sending messages. See also Ackland Robert, Web Social Science: Concepts, Data, and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age (London, 2013).

5. Kitschelt Herbert, “Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-Nuclear Movements in Four Democracies,” British Journal of Political Science 16, no. 1 (January 1986): 5785 .

6. Grannovetter Mark, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78, no. 6 (May 1973): 1360–80; Kuran Timur, “Now out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolutions of 1989,” World Politics 44, no. 1 (October 1991): 748 ; Lohmann Susanne, “Dynamics of Informational Cascades: The Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany, 1989–1991,” World Politics 47, no. 1 (October 1994): 42101 .

7. Snow David A. and Benford Robert D., “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest,” in Morris Aldon and Mueller Carol McClurg, eds., Frontiers in Social Movement Theory (New Haven, 1992), 133–55.

8. Levitsky Steven and Way Lucan, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War (New York, 2010).

9. In the ongoing debate about the importance of social media during the Arab Spring, one detail that often gets neglected is the fact that flyers circulated on Facebook would then be printed and distributed by hand, providing an example of the indirect ways in which social media can distribute information. Drew Jesse, A Social History of Contemporary Democratic Media (New York, 2013).

10. Note that this does not imply that there is no hierarchy of information on social media, only that the explicit hierarchies inherent in the structure of traditional media are no longer as evident.

11. Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted,” New Yorker, October 4, 2010, at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell (last accessed May 10, 2016).

12. Again to comment as we prepare the final version of this manuscript for publication, the subject of misinformation—and social media’s role in spreading misinformation—has been elevated in importance due to more recent developments; this remains an important subject for future research beyond the scope of the current article.

13. Jenkins J. Craig, “Resource Mobilization Theory and the Study of Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 9 (1983): 527–53; McCarthy John and Zald Mayer, “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory,” American Journal of Sociology 82, no. 6 (May 1977): 1212–41. On other structural theories see: Kriesi Hanspeter, “Political Context and Opportunity,” in Snow David, Soule Sarah, and Kriesi Hanspeter, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, (Oxford, 2004), 6790 ; McAdam Douglas, “Recruitment to High-Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer,” American Journal of Sociology 92, vol. 1 (July 1986): 6490 .

14. Gladwell, “Small Change”; Morozov Evgeny, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (New York, 2011).

15. Bennet W. Lance and Segerberg Alexandra, “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics,” Information, Communication & Society 15, no.5 (June 2012); See as well work by Barberá et al., who put forward an argument about the relative importance of even peripheral members of protest networks online playing a crucial role in the spread of information about the protest. Pablo Barberá, Ning Wang, Richard Bonneau, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, Joshua Tucker and Sandra González-Bailón, “The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests,” PLoS ONE 10, no.11 (November 2015), at www.journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0143611 (last accessed January 10, 2017).

16. McFaul Michael, “Transitions from Post-Communism,” Journal of Democracy 16, no. 3 (July 2005): 12 .

17. Goldstein Joshua, “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution,” Berkman Center Research Publications 14 (2007).

18. Kaskiv Vladyslav, Chupryna Iryna and Zolotariov Yevhen, “It’s Time! Pora and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine,” in Demeš Pavol and Forbrig Joerg, eds., Reclaiming Democracy: Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe (2007); Way Lucan, “The Real Causes of the Color Revolutions,” Journal of Democracy 19 no. 3 (July 2008).

19. Goldstein, “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution”; Kuzio Taras, “Oligarchs, Tapes and Oranges: ‘Kuchmagate’ to the Orange Revolution,” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 23, no.1 (March 2007): 3056 ; Pavol Demes and Joerg Forbrig, “Pora—“It’s Time” for Democracy in Ukraine” in Revolution in Orange: The Origins of Ukraine’s Democratic Breakthrough, (Washington, D.C., 2006).

20. Goldstein, “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.”

21. The idea is that the impetus to protest—in this case being upset about electoral fraud—is being simultaneously shared by large proportions of the population, as opposed to other reasons one might be frustrated with the regime (such as being required to pay a bribe), for which there is no reason to believe others will choose to push back against the regime at the same time. Tucker Joshua A., “Enough! Electoral Fraud, Collective Action Problems and Post-Communist Colored Revolutions,” Perspectives on Politics 5, no. 3 (September 2007).

22. Michael McFaul, “Transitions from Post-Communism”; Taras Kuzio, “Oligarchs, Tapes and Oranges.”

23. “Freedom on the Net: Ukraine” Freedom House, 2014, at www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2014/ukraine (last accessed January 10, 2016); “Contemporary Media Use in Ukraine,” Gallup, 2014, www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-research-brief.pdf (last accessed on January 10, 2016).

24. Tucker Joshua, Nagler Jonathan, Metzger Megan, Penfold-Brown Duncan and Bonneau Richard, “Big Data, Social Media and Protest: Foundations for a Research Agenda,” in Alvarez R. Michael, ed., Data Analytics in Social Science, Government, and Industry (Cambridge, Mass., 2016): 199224 . Exploring regional variation in social media usage within Ukraine would be an interesting area for future research.

25. Ol'ga Minchenko, “Vzhe 3 mil'iony ukraintsiv korystuiutsia Facebook,” Watcher, October 2013, at www.watcher.com.ua/2013/10/25/vzhe-3-milyony-ukrayintsiv-korystuyutsya-facebook/ (last accessed on January 10, 2016).

26. Bohdanova Tetyana, “Unexpected Revolution: The Role of Social Media in Ukraine’s EuroMaidan UprisingEuropean View 13, no. 1 (2014).

27. Olga Rudenko, “Ukraine is not a Tweeting Nation Yet, but Give it Time,” Kyiv Post, April 5, 2012, at www.kyivpost.com/article/guide/about-kyiv/ukraine-is-not-a-tweeting-nation-yet-but-give-it-t-125565.html (last accessed January 10, 2016); Minchenko, “Vzhe 3 mil'iony ukraintsiv korystuiutsia Facebook.”

28. Olena Sikorska, “Yandex Report: Twitter Usage in Ukraine,” Digital East Factor, November 24, 2014, at www.digitaleastfactor.com/yandex-report-twitter-usage-ukraine/ (last accessed January 10, 2016). Yandex is a Russian Internet company that is similar to Google, at www.yandex.com.

29. Szostek Joanna, “The Media Battles of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan,” Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media 11 (2014): 119 .

30. Diuk Nadia, “The Maidan and Beyond: Finding Ukraine,” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 3 (2014): 8389 .

31. Onuch Olga, “‘Facebook Helped Me Do It’: Understanding the EuroMaidan Protestor ‘Tool-kit,’Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 15, no.1 (2015): 170–84.

32. Nadia Diuk, “The Maidan and Beyond.”

33. Male, twenties, interview, Kiev, Ukraine, July 14, 2014; Female, twenties, interview, Kiev, Ukraine, July 25, 2014.

34. Gladwell, “Small Change”; Morozov, “The Net Delusion.”

35. Onuch Olga, “EuroMaidan Protests in Ukraine: Social Media Versus Social Networks,” Problems of Post-Communism, 62, no. 4 (July/August 2015): 217–35.

36. Katz Elihu and Lazarsfeld Paul F., Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (Glencoe, IL, 1955).

37. Goldstein, “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.”

38. An interesting subject for future work would be to try to estimate the way that this social media channel interacted with other aspects of individuals’ decision making processes.

39. Bohdanova, “Unexpected Revolution,” 133–42.

40. Facebook, s.v. “EuroMaydan” at www.facebook.com/EuroMaydan/ (last accessed January 10, 2017).

41. Joshua Tucker, Megan Metzger, Duncan Penfold-Brown, Richard Bonneau, John Jost, and Jonathan Nagler, “Protest in the Age of Social Media: Technology and Ukraine’s EuroMaidan,” Carnegie Reporter 7, no.4 (Fall 2014), at www.medium.com/carnegie-corporation-international-peace-and/protest-in-the-age-of-social-media-7ae9fd940b06#.c6j03fq0k (last accessed on January 10, 2016). As of October 2015, it had over 300,000 followers.

42. This Facebook page has since been removed (last accessed September 2014).

43. Male, forties, interview, Kiev, Ukraine, July 24, 2014.

44. Carola Frediani, “How Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution Played Out Online,” TechPresident, February 28, 2014, at www.techpresident.com/news/wegov/24790/how-EuroMaidan-play-out-online (last accessed on January 10, 2017).

45. Remarks by Alexey Gavrilov at an April 2, 2015 panel at University of Texas, Austin on Social Media and Digital Dissent: A Roundtable Discussion, http://calendar.utexas.edu/event/social_media_the_dynamics_of_dissent#.WIgblrYrLUo (last accessed January 11, 2017).

46. Tucker, et al., “Big Data, Social Media and Protest”

47. Megan MacDuffee Metzger, “As Police Raid Protests in Ukraine, Protestors Turn to Twitter and Facebook,” Monkey Cage Blog of the Washington Post, December 11, 2013, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/12/11/as-police-raid-protests-in-ukraine-protesters-turn-to-twitter-and-facebook (last accessed on January 11, 2017) .

48. Ibid.

49. Greg Satell, “If You Doubt That Social Media Has Changed the World, Take a Look at Ukraine,” Forbes, January 18, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2014/01/18/if-you-doubt-that-social-media-has-changed-the-world-take-a-look-at-ukraine/#308b682a699d (last accessed on January 10, 2017).

50. Tucker, et al., “Big Data, Social Media and Protest”; Metzger, “As Police Raid Protests in Ukraine, Protestors Turn to Twitter and Facebook”; Pablo Barberá and Megan MacDuffee Metzger, “How Ukrainian Protestors are Using Twitter and Facebook,” Monkey Cage Blog of the Washington Post, December 4, 2013, at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/12/04/strategic-use-of-facebook-and-twitter-in-ukrainian-protests (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

51. Pablo Barberá and Megan MacDuffee Metzger, “How Ukrainian Protestors are Using Twitter and Facebook.”

52. Female, thirties, interview, Kiev, Ukraine, July 22, 2014.

53. Olena Goncharova, “Ukrainians Find Help Abroad in their Struggles,” Kyiv Post, November 28, 2013, at http://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine/ukrainians-find-help-abroad-in-their-struggles-332446.html (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

54. Dan Pototsky, “Social Media Groups Affiliated with Ukraine Blocked in Russia,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, March 13, 2014, at www.rbth.com/science_and_tech/2014/03/13/social_media_groups_affiliated_with_ukraine_blocked_in_russi_35045.html (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

55. Goncharova, “Ukrainians Find Help Abroad in their Struggles.”

56. Tetyana Lokot, “Ukrainian #DigitalMaidan Activism Takes Twitter’s Trending Topics By Storm,” Global Voices Online, January 27, 2014, at www.globalvoices.org/2014/01/27/ukrainian-digitalmaidan-protests-twitter-trending-topics-storm/ (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

57. Leshchenko Sergii, “The Maidan and Beyond: The Media’s Role,” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 3 (July 2014): 1934 ; “Contemporary Media Use in Ukraine,” Gallup.

58. Leshchenko, “The Maidan and Beyond.”

59. Ibid.

60. “Contemporary Media Use in Ukraine,” Gallup.

61. Szostek, “The Media Battles of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan.”

62. Tucker et al., “Protest in the Age of Social Media.”

63. Szostek, “The Media Battles of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan.”

64. Ibid.

65. Leshchenko, “The Maidan and Beyond”; Szostek, “The Media Battles of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan.”

66. Leschhenko, “The Maidan and Beyond.”

67. Ibid.

68. Kudelia Serhiy, “The Maidan and Beyond: The House that Yanukovych Built,” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 3 (July 2014): 5257 .

69. Matt Robinson and Pavel Polityuk, “Hedging their Bets, Ukraine’s Oligarchs Sit above the Fray,” Reuters, December 5, 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-ukraine-oligarchs-idUKBRE9B40MQ20131205 (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

70. New media may also have provided the oligarchs with a clear and cogent signal about the level of support that the opposition enjoyed among the population. At the end of the day, to the extent that oligarchs are economic opportunists whose goal is to maximize their own wealth and power, and to the extent that the opposition looks better positioned to help them to do that, it is in the interest of the oligarchs to support them. When the possibility of opposition success seems real, shifting support or at least attempting to play both sides becomes an optimal strategy.

71. Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net: Ukraine 2014,” at www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2015/ukraine (last accessed January 11, 2017).

72. Ibid.

73. Dickinson Jennifer, “Prosymo Maksymal'nyi Perepost! Tactical and Discursive Uses of Social Media in Ukraine’s EuroMaidan,” Ab Imperio 3 (2014): 7593 .

74. Ibid.

75. Male, forties, interview, Kiev, Ukraine, July 14, 2014.

76. Matthew Gault, “Ukraine is Crowdfunding its Army, but Popular Fundraising has a Downside,” July 13, 2014, at http://warisboring.com/ukraine-is-crowdfunding-its-army-f819fa24353#.pbc9xunj5 (last accessed on January 11, 2017).

77. BBC News, March 8, 2012, “Russian Twitter Political Protests’ Swamped by Spam,” http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16108876 (last accessed January 25, 2017); Entwickelr.de, June 30, 2014), “Turkeys Twitter-Bot Army and the Politics of Social Media,” at https://entwickler.de/online/webmagazin/%20/turkeys-twitter-bot-army-and-the-politics-of-social-media-1153.html (last accessed January 25, 2017).

78. Tyler Lopez, “How Did Ukraine’s Government Text Threats to Kiev’s EuroMaidan Protestors?,” Slate, January 24, 2014, at www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/01/24/ukraine_texting_euromaidan_protesters_kiev_demonstrators_receive_threats.html (last accessed January 11, 2017).

79. Sergey Sanovich, Denis Stukal, Duncan Penfold-Brown and Joshua Tucker, “Turning the Virtual Tables: Government Strategies for Addressing Online Opposition with an Application to Russia” (unpublished paper presented at the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics, 2015).

80. Gault, “Ukraine is Crowdfunding its Army.”

81. Gladwell, “Small Change.” The precise example is Wall Street executives getting their phones back from teenage girls.

82. It is probably worth asking, though, how different this is from many movements that existed in the pre-social media era as well.

83. It is important to note that some states, in particular China, are already quite good at controlling social and other digital media. It is not a given, however, that all states can or will control the opposition online. Instead, it is an open research question as to how different states will respond to different types of opposition. For some initial work in this regard, see: Sanovich et al., “Turning the Virtual Tables,” who develop a three-fold classification of strategies employed by authoritarian (or competitive authoritarian) regimes to respond to online opposition.

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Slavic Review
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