Why the social media spotlight has fallen so heavily on the conflict in Ukraine

The Russia-Ukraine conflict: An expert's view on why it matters so much on social media

Ukrainian flag
Pictured is the Ukrainian flag. Photo: Grete Ubartaite

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the eyes of many have been glued to what is happening in the east of Europe.


Putin’s so-called special operation was supposed to last only two days but it has turned into a conflict lasting months and maybe even years. 


People all around Europe took to social media to discuss the invasion – and started offering their homes, vehicles, help, connections and everything they could to support Ukrainians.


As people started to flee Ukraine, it is probably safe to say that Europe was very united when it came to sheltering the refugees.


However, some noticed that – on social media – other conflicts in the world, such as Yemen or Palestine, were not only overshadowed by the war in Ukraine but did not receive this much recognition in the first place.


People pointed out that, while what is happening in Ukraine was horrible and should be acknowledged, other parts of the planet matter as well.


And some social media users highlighted that, even in the horrors of war, racial injustice plays a huge role in who gets the help first and who is left to deal on their own.


However, the answer to the question of why the Russia-Ukraine conflict on is such a focal point social media – compared to other current conflicts – could be related to the fact that social media is not one huge community but rather multiple small ones.


“Social media enables people to build intentional communities around a shared interest,” says Dr. Phil Burton-Cartledge, a lecturer at the University of Derby and politics enthusiast.


“When people feel solidarity with one another, it is easier for people to identify with one another if they can emphasise their experiences,” he added.


According to him, the reason why the war in Ukraine has received so much spotlight in Europe may be that it is more likely that people will feel more sympathetic with others if they have shared values or similar lifestyles. 


Dr Burton-Cartledge said: “What also social media permits people to do is tell stories, so for example, if a tragedy befalls, you are more likely to feel sympathetic towards someone whom you might follow on Instagram and can constantly see their life on social media – even if you have not met them – than just reading about it on the newspaper.”


He added: “When we think about the current crisis in Ukraine versus previous refugee crises, one of the reasons why the struggle of what is going on in Palestine or what is going in Yemen does not feel as close or immediate to a lot of young people is because, when you are in those online spaces, you tend not to encounter other young people from Yemen or Palestine.”