Euromaidan was the convergence of civil society demands in Kiev, and it was sparked by a single social media post.
Throughout the last decade, information communication technologies have fundamentally reshaped our social interactions. In addition to obvious benefits brought to us by technological innovations, intrinsically there is more than just catering to individual needs. On the macro level, by providing citizens with abundant opportunities to exercise freedom of speech and expression, the Internet becomes an asset for democracy, hence a major political game-changer. This fall, amidst the relentless fight defending its civilizational choice, Ukraine took benefit of one of the above-mentioned civilizational advancements, namely the social networks.
The phenomenon of social networks’ proliferation has added an additional dimension to Internet usage worldwide, making it possible to create and exchange user-generated content with global audiences online. The U.S. presidential elections of 2008 clearly demonstrated the impact social media have on politics. Incidentally, social media turned out to be a double-edged sword: five years ago, one used it to get to power; on present day, it has been used by millions to overthrow the authorities. In all seriousness, the entire Euromaidan initiative in Ukraine began with a single Facebook post: immediately following the news of President Yanukovych’s decision to repudiate the Association Agreement with the EU, Mustafa Nayem (a popular blogger and journalist) wrote a status update inciting people to gather on the Independence Square in Kiev for a protest. The message went viral, got 1600 reposts, and gathered over 300 protesters in less than an hour. Before the dawn broke, thousands of peaceful demonstrators were rallying in downtown Kiev while other cities kicked in: from Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk to Hamburg, Toronto and Washington, D.C. Ukrainians all over the world have taken a stand against the corrupt government, their efforts united and catalyzed by social media.
Social networks provide outstanding opportunities for multilateral interactions, wherefore they are oftentimes embedded in various e-governance systems. In the context of Euromaidan, it would be fair to give credit to social media for serving as a platform for civil self-organization and governance, by the agency of which a spontaneous civil unrest has evolved into a sustainable and effective military encampment. Some bloggers audaciously proclaim Euromaidan to be a reincarnation of the legendary Zaporizhzhya Sich—reinstating the long-forgotten Cossacks’ democratic legacy and national self-determination through the three centuries of subjugation. Ideology aside, Euromaidan has displayed a remarkable online-coordinated division of labor: defense squads, field cuisines, first aid, cleanup, accommodation, transportation, and logistics, all volunteer-based.
According to Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, over half of Internet users (the rate of adult population with internet access being 50%) admit to social networking. It might be plausibly concluded that, by providing over a quarter of a country’s population with a multitude of opportunities to express their opinion, social media gave a boost to citizen journalism in Ukraine. Likewise, due to the abundance of petition tools available online, citizens have been petitioning foreign governments for a variety of sanctions: banning President Yanukovych and his cabinet members from entry into other countries (gathered 100,000 signatures in 4 days); reinforcing corporate social responsibility policies on Ukrainian oligarchs worldwide; and even some ambiguous ones, such as requests for a military intervention. In addition to petitioning, many internet users have effectively engaged social media to offer free legal advice or gather evidence to exonerate activists, beaten and imprisoned during police crackdowns. Social networks have largely contributed to successful locating of persons missing after the riots (all 30 individuals found and reunited with families).There has also been a tremendously efficient fundraising campaign to start an independent online channel, ‘Hromadske (Public) TV’: a startup venture that had been raising an average of 70,000 UAH (approx. $8,500) daily, mainly owing to social networks.
“Democracy only works when ordinary people claim it as their own.” This arguable statement by Bill Moyers coheres with Ukrainian reality, where civil society took a defiant stance against the establishment through massive grassroots activism. Social media had not only let Ukraine acknowledge the affinity and ongoing support from the outside world, but also spread inspiration for the world’s oppressed. Now that the fourth estate has emerged as the fifth column, regardless of disinformation and chauvinistic propaganda from Kremlin, a 45-million person nation has been given a valid chance to win their struggle for democracy.
photo credit: Ivan Sekretarev/AP