What was the role of social networks in the conflict in Ukraine? To answer this question, one year after the beginning of the Russian invasion, Arcadia Mood has produced a report that starts from the analysis of the profiles of the Ukrainian president Zelensky. The study, part of a collaborative project between Arcadiacom.it and Blogmeter, detects a strong emotional participation of users in the early stages of the war, and then flattens out in a rapid addiction (THE SPECIAL – ALL UPDATES).
The numbers of Zelensky’s Twitter profile
The selfie video posted by President Zelensky on the morning of February 26, while walking in the government district of Kiev, is by far the tweet with the most interactions in the last year. A video posted to respond to the Russian narrative of an imminent fall of Ukraine and a Zelensky who escaped leaving his people to fight alone. As of early 2022, Zelensky’s account had ordinary numbers. If on January 1 the followers were 352 thousand, the following month they had risen to 402 thousand and on the eve of the invasion, on February 23, the account already had 520 thousand. In the first days of the conflict, the numbers skyrocket: on February 25, the followers grow by 1 million, and at the end of the month it exceeds the 4 million mark. On March 7, however, the quota of 5 million followers is exceeded and two months after the start of the Russian invasion, on April 24, the fandom marks 6,087,856 followers.
The rapid addiction to war
As Arcadia Mood explains in its report, after the great initial shock, which led to peaks of reaction and new followers in the first four weeks, already from the end of March, Western public opinion begins to follow the progress of the conflict with less emotional participation . Follower growth returns to completely normal levels as early as April. If in the two weeks from February 24 to March 7, 2022, Zelensky’s profile grows by more than 5.5 million, then it takes eight months, from April 24 to December 25, 2022, to cross the 7 million mark.
The reaction data
In support of the thesis of rapid habituation to the daily narrative of the conflict, there is also the analysis of the reactions. February and March 2022 were the two months with the highest peaks, respectively 10.2 and 13.5 million, while since April the total reactions of Zelensky’s Twitter account have dropped to 3.2 million, and will continue to drop until to the negative peak of August 2022. Something similar can be seen in the temporal peaks of engagement. In essence, attention has dropped dramatically since April 2022. In the first week of the invasion, the percentage is 63%, in the second it drops to 20%. Then, in the third week, engagement is further halved, reaching 9%, while at the end of the month it is 6.2%. Also in this case, the negative peak is in August with 0.39%.
On March 2, 2022, a week after the start of the Russian invasion, a shot of Zelensky sitting on the steps of the presidential residence was published on the Ukrainian president’s Instagram profile with the message: “A week of heroic struggle and great love for the homeland . Thank you all and everyone. The victory is ours!”. The new “military” look is already there and the post gets over 100,000 comments and more than two million likes. Just like Twitter, the Instagram account also grew exponentially in the first weeks of the invasion. If at the beginning of February 2022, President Zelensky had 9 million followers, the day after the invasion there is the first millionaire increase. At the end of the month, it is already over 13 million, while on March 17 it surpasses the threshold of 16 million followers. Since then this number has grown slowly up to the threshold of 17 million followers, reached in May 2022.
Reactions and engagement on Instagram
Just like for Twitter, also on Instagram there is a reaction count characterized by a peak and then leveling off. The reactions, explains Arcadia Mood, go from 46 million in the first week to 43 million in the second, to then drop to 21 million in the fourth and fifth week since the start of the invasion. Unlike Twitter, the reaction timeline on Instagram shows a sharp decline after the first few weeks, but a more erratic trend in the following months. There have been several moments where the reactions go up and then down again. However, this can be explained by the dynamics of the publications, which includes, among other methods, that of the reels which have a much higher capacity for involvement. Even the ability to involve publications drops drastically after only a few weeks of the invasion: it starts with 59%, it passes to 43%, then to 28% and at the end of March it reaches 18% to then close with an annual average of 11% engagement.
Videos on Facebook
The number of videos and the number of views obtained from the contents published by Volodymyr Zelensky on his Facebook account is then studied. In the first two weeks after the start of the invasion, the average number of views is high, even if after the first week it halves and then progressively loses consistency. In the first week, then there are the two videos that have obtained the highest views ever in these twelve months. The first is that of February 25 with 895 thousand views, in Zelensky together with the General Staff he recounts his first night in Kiev: “we are here. We are in Kiev, We protect Ukraine”. The second, however, is from February 26, already published on Twitter, which collects 1.4 million views, becoming the most viewed video ever on Zelensky’s personal account.
Zelensky’s digital speech
For the latter analysis, a keyword for the recovery of digital speech on the net in the last twelve months is constructed using a matrix composed of “Zelensky” or “Ukraine” or “war”. The lines of mentions – just under 11 million from 6,870 different sources – and engagement confirm that as happened with social networks, interest in the war also peaked in the first month on the net and then decreased throughout the year . There was only a leap between the end of September and the beginning of October, in the days when the Ukrainian army retook Lugansk and the Kherson region. A moment that marks in public opinion a change of course in the fate of the conflict, with Ukraine regaining ground.
The confrontation with Putin
Finally, the comparison on digital speech between the two compound keywords “Zelensky” or “Ukraine” or “war” and “Putin” or “Russia” or “war” is analysed. The two timelines, that of mentions – just over 11 million on average – and that of engagement – with an average of 662 million – allow us to note that Putin and Zelensky, for online speech, are almost a single body: if one speaks of one inevitably mentions the other and vice versa. Putin has the most significant peaks and the largest share of digital mentions with 12.3 million, but it is Zelensky who instead generates the peaks and the largest share of engagement. Again the curves show that attention follows the habituation rule.