netizens & the war in Ukraine: the paradox of misinformation in the era of data abundance

Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, the flux of information that has flooded the web is turning into a potent whirlwind without a clear direction. We can’t know yet if the unprecedented sociopolitical, activity it has triggered, is working in favour of peace or war. What we should note, though, is that we have never witnessed a phygital activity of this scale: people and organisations have been rapidly and massively disseminating powerful content in the digital realm, activating users to be historically responsive in the physical realm. While these initiatives are certainly moving, the authenticity and awareness of their motives, and the interests they ultimately serve are yet to be defined. Ultimately, the most alarming observation about us, the netizens who witness the war in Ukraine, concerns the paradox of misinformation in the era of data abundance: when hit by a data storm, is there any way to filter out inaccuracy?

The more posts I saw this week, the more it became impossible to ignore this angle. Disappointingly enough, there was only one sober post I came across in my newsfeed. Only one. The editor and photographer of Kennedy Magazine, a publication I have been following for its opaque, honest aesthetics, made some rather reflective comments about the war in Ukraine, parallelising the story to the not so distant war in Yugoslavia. Besides this occasion, all other content was mostly reactive and reductive, urging everyone to make a stance by protesting or donating. “So? What is the problem if people are getting mobilised as best as they can against a war?”, one would ask. Well, there exactly lies the concern: due to its fatality, a war is such a delicate matter, that calls for the utmost resonance we can master.

History, that stranger


Cultivating this resonance is surely hard, but not impossible. As I am terrified by how effortlessly and blindly we attribute bellicose responsibilities, I am encouraging you to ask yourselves what exactly do you know about the war in Ukraine, and in what depth of time? Better yet, let’s not focus on a far-off country; how about the places you grew up? What do you know about their sociopolitical evolution through time? Sadly, we know so little, yet act as if we know it all. How unrooted we have grown from history! We don’t even know what has happened to our own homelands in detail, yet we rush to put weapons in someone’s arms; this last development doesn’t sit well with me. Let me clarify at this point that I am under no circumstances pro war, and Putin is a self-proclaimed invader whose criminal activity I disapprove. What I want to highlight is the continuity of events that lead to war: war is rarely the beginning, war usually is a peak of a conflict and potentially the beginning of an end.

Stereotypes and image architecture


The more we fail to acknowledge the continuity of events that lead to any conflict, the more we fail to track the thread of human evolution and its paramount importance: this is another interpretation of the expression “the cause justifies the means”. Unless we link the macro- and micro-causes to their aggressive means and elongate our perspective, reaching to the essence of things becomes hard to reach. Moreover, we are ill-equipping ourselves against misinformation and fail to recognise the avid consumption of stereotypes: gradually, there is little space left for critical opinion.

One thing is certain during this war in Ukraine: both sides, utilising the power of media, have fabricated their images to serve their interests best, potentially obscuring large chunks of truth that could change significantly the stance of the public opinion. Consequently, us, the audience, are bombarded with highly triggering content, which emotionally activates and instantly pushes us to be reactive: between the stimulus and our reaction, there is no room for processing all this traumatic Information. In a way, we end up watching a differently staged reality TV, whose winner we pick in the end might get a prize we can’t afford to offer.

Threats and/or opportunities


Nobody denies that we have been through a lot lately. Our prolonged misfortune, including a pandemic, a recession, a climate emergency and this war among other active conflicts, are all events we have mainly been observing online. This doesn’t dissolve their painful effect, but it may affect how we weigh their importance and, consequently, our action plan. While we grow more confident about our newly found digital power, we grow more distant from protocol and the state, that has disappointed us significantly during this turbulent era.

As a result, our patience, and belief to people of power has been reduced dramatically, a condition that is reflected on the rise of individual and collective initiative. This activity is inspiring, yet in need of identity and clear direction; surprisingly enough, regardless of the abundance of available information, we are still essentially apolitical. This combination can prove lethal, as we struggle to tell threats from opportunities and establish a connection between the principles and actions of humanism. It will take an alliance of individual, collective, and official initiative to pivot through challenge and change as efficiently as possible. It is important to remember that, as excluding entities will only divide us, rather than unite us against threats that concern as a species.

…which brings us to opportunities in the form of negotiations. Will the involved negotiators end the war in Ukraine and restore our faith in officials? This could be a great opportunity towards unity. Let’s remember, though, that negotiations take time for a reason, as anyone involved in any conflict, will factor in personal profits. Why would you say that the response rate from the rest of the world has taken so long in this case? Of course, this is precisely the nature of this process, making sure that each side secures their interests as best as possible. We, the audience, could make sure to keep an eye on the one who has everything to lose, the people-victims in need of humanitarian support. Let’s see if we can prevent this time another nation, territories, and liberties to end up being sold for peanuts.

Principles at stake


Regardless of what we have seen lately, it usually takes two to tango: no war has only one villain, and even if it does have one dangerously delusional maniac, i.e., Putin, numerous others namely peacekeepers will profit off the conflict in the sidelines as best as they can. What bothers me is the scenario of the “good American”, “good European”, and in any case “good Western”. Let’s not forget how many times the West has meddled in countries with volatile conflicts, in the name of peace and resolution. Let’s not let the geographical distance separating us from these lands distance our awareness from the concealed intentions of the part of the world we, as westerners, identify with: even though the wars western countries wage are tormenting other nations, far away from the European civil motherlands, their involvement remains painful and destructive for the victims caught in the process.

It’s a small, divided world after all


Probably the most disheartening event of the past few days, is the discriminative activity received by the refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Reportedly, POC and other marginalised groups, have been pushed back and prevented by crossing borders. At this point, I would like to remind us all that the war can and will bring out the worst one has to offer, and expose less or more hidden pathogenies: just because these are dormant, doesn’t mean they will not flourish given the opportunity. So, in this case, some people see just refugees while some others see different grades of citizens, creating a divided world that has little to do with kindness and more to do with ill-valued familiarity.

Similarly, to a state, refugees translate into less or more potent Human Resources; no politician wants to absorb a large volume of refugees who will deplete rather than renew resources. From a functional, business perspective, these shifting populations need to be optimally utilised according to the needs, infrastructure, and capacity of the hosting state. Should we really tokenise human torment, or is there any other way to secure humanity as well as smoother transitions?

Maybe, if we all collaborate on a global level, we can successfully remind to each other that securing refugees should be a priority in any war, this case in the war in Ukraine. Let’s not forget who the victim is here: these people, who were violently extracted from their realities, never really had a choice to another narrative. They were forced to make an emotionally traumatic leap of survival, from which possibly they will never fully recover. Let’s also not turn kindness into yet another form of narcissism, only addressing it to people who look or behave like us: regardless of their origins, all people ache, bleed, and die the same.

Regularly checking with important social inconsistencies that break our comfortable bubble, could help us keep in touch with our humanity and remove the discriminative layers we all carry by default. As I have said before, we are all conditioned in the same, discriminative society, and even though we can’t change our upbringing, we can definitely change our present and future comportment. For instance, do we know what happened to the afghan female pleas for help? Does anyone check with the status of this situation in the East? I am afraid not. How quickly these cries have been silenced by the look away of the users/algorithm and the data storm that decimates our attention before we have a moment to connect and substantially empathise.

In an era where there is a demand and supply for deep generalists, let us not annihilate the importance of specialised scientists: their devoted, long-term, painstaking studies can’t be substituted by social media newsfeeds and google search sessions. Let’s seek, invest, trust, and amplify these voices, which, based on science and facts, can offer more valuable guidance than the current ambiguous media channels.

Proactivity vs reactivity


Rather than desperate interventions of conflict’s neutralisations, we had better understand that the long-term prosper of life-long education might be a significantly more preemptive strategy. Investing in long-term, cognitive culture, focusing on education, both local and international at this point, may at last earn us the valuable milliseconds that distinct a proactive from a reactive mindset: the former has already processed in advance and has more chances to move towards action in awareness, while the latter has zero time to evaluate facts and has more chances to move towards reaction in the dark. The dissolving light of knowledge and modesty is the only weapon we have against this darkness.

Even though I am scared by the irrevocable velocity upon which we respond to this tragedy, and wonder if we really act upon the best interest of humanism, I would like to be optimistic both for the end of the war in Ukraine and the future of our species. It may look ugly, but learning rarely looks polished anyway. What is urgent, though, is to identify ourselves as learners rather than experts, in hope to give more space to reflection rather than certainty. If anything, the past few years have taught us how fatally unpredictable life can get, and how our doing can spare it or sacrifice it. Let’s give our lives a chance by maybe thinking things twice? Have a lovely Sunday.

liberalvirtue

library

internal literature

w.a.r.: we are responsible / definitions of war, liberalvirtue

external literature

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, Amnesty International

Diataseis, Kathimerini

Hail the peacebuilders, Aeon

Ukraine fights back on TikTok, where war is fought with memes and misinformation, NBC News

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