Pro-Russian disinformation, local elections and the COVID-19 pandemic were the strongest factors influencing Ukrainians’ media consumption in 2020

18.May.2021

On May 18, 2021, the Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership, the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center and NGO Detector Media presented a joint study prepared within the framework of the European-Union funded project “Countering Disinformation in Southern and Eastern Ukraine”. The study was conducted in 2020 and assesses the effectiveness of misinformation and manipulative influence on public perception of information as well as the dynamics of development and transformation of major Russian narratives about Ukraine and their export to the Ukrainian media.

“In the EU there is a growing awareness of the threats that our democracies are facing in the cyberspace, and we have also spoken about the ongoing battle of narratives. It is going full speed in Ukraine,” said Rémi Duflot, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine. “Of course, it is not a new challenge – disinformation has been with us for a long time. However, with the possibilities offered by the internet, it now spreads faster than ever. Some state actors are actively involved in these activities trying to undermine and delegitimise our democratic systems and the values of freedom, pluralism, and checks and balances on which they are built.”

According to the study, malicious disinformation campaigns penetrate the media space of south and east Ukraine and reach media consumers equally through various channels including TV, local outlets and social media networks. Given the variety of disinformation actors, content producers and disseminators, the vast majority of social groups in south and east Ukraine can be affected by aggressively anti-Ukrainian narratives such as “Ukraine is a failed state”, „Ukraine glorifies Nazism“, “Ukraine is governed by external powers”, “Situation in Donbas is a civil war”, and “There is powerful Russophobia in Ukraine”. For example, 58% of respondents in the target regions believe that the most important decisions made in Ukraine since 2014 were forced by Western countries.

“If earlier disinformation was the prerogative of secret services, now everyone can spread disinformation, and secret services can influence everyone to use them as repeaters,” commented Liubov Tsybulska, Head of the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security. “Ukraine is called a “test maidan” for the Kremlin’s information operations. It is important to remember that information attacks can relate to any topic: national security, politics, military, energy, banking sphere, culture and healthcare.”

The panellists emphasised the urgent need to improve legal requirements and mechanisms for monitoring the financial transparency of the media, in particular, to create restrictive measures for those media that have non-transparent funding and/or Russian capital; and to develop media literacy and critical thinking among Ukraine’s citizens. It is necessary to seek and implement new formats for the development of critical thinking in citizens of different age groups including using so-called infotainment tools.

“Implemented with the support of European partners, media literacy programmes should engage more of those critically vulnerable citizens who lack modern skills required in the digital age as well as train local journalists in Ukraine’s regions to increase their professionalism and independence. Free media and educated media consumers are one of the bases for building a resilient society in Ukraine,” said Gert Antsu, Director of Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership.

Full text of “On the other side of the screen: An analysis of media consumption and disinformation in the Ukraine’s information environment” is available HERE.

Full text of “Evolution of Russian narratives about Ukraine and their export to Ukrainian media space” is available HERE.

Background information:

The EU-funded project ‘Countering Disinformation in Southern and Eastern Ukraine’ is implemented by the Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership (ECEAP) in cooperation with the Ukraine Crisis Media Center and Detector Media. The project aims to foster popular resilience and build capacity to counter disinformation campaigns in Southern and Eastern Ukraine through strengthening local journalism, facilitating effective communication between local authorities and the public, and implementing activities aimed at increasing media literacy and critical thinking.