what extent was social media a key factor for the success of 2013-2014 Euromaidan
Revolution how does social media affect democratic change?
and Society Research Seminar
European languages & Cultures
To what extent was
social media a key factor for the success of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan
Revolution and how does social media affect democratic change?
The 2013-2014 Euromaidan
Revolution took place because Ukrainian citizens were dissatisfied with the
decision of the then president Viktor Yanukovych to negate the planned Association
Agreement with the European Union and instead re-establish ties with Russia (Motyl, 2013). The protest which
lead to a national movement was started by a group of students on the 30th of
November. After the students were attacked by the police on Independence Square
in Kiev the numbers of protesters joining the movement quickly rose. The
demands of the Euromaidan were to sign the association agreement with Europe,
to change the constitution of Ukraine and the resignation of Yanukovych (Diuk, 2014). The Euromaidan has
been called Ukraine’s Self-Organising Revolution, presumably due to the use of
social media for the fast mobilisation of protestors and sharing of
information. Social media has been celebrated across the world for redefining
how individuals take part in social movements and anti-government demonstrations (Krasynska,
Social media is especially interesting for research as it might take on a more
important role for the younger generations, moving away from the traditional
participation in politics (Segerberg, 2012, pp. 759-760). The aims of the Euromaidan Revolution are nowhere near
finished, but it is undoubtedly so that social media has impacted it’s
mobilisation tremendously. It is not for nothing
that social media is such a hotly debated topic; after all, it provides
protesters with a platform to come together and discuss problems, as was the
case with the Euromaidan. At the same time these powerful information and
communication technologies (ICT’s) have
also caught the interests of governments around the world who could see that the
challenges and possibilities these technologies could bring for domestic and
international order were not a joke.
This paper examines to what extent the use of social media was a
key factor for the success of the pro-democracy movement of the Euromaidan
Revolution. First, the use of social media for mobilisation during the
Euromaidan will be analysed. Secondly, an examination of the question whether
social movements using social media bring democratic change. Third, an
examination of how social media is used by opponents of the protesting party
during the Euromaidan.
The Euromaidan has benefitted from
the fast information sharing networks that were facilitated by social media
platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Any social movement can benefit from the fast
information sharing and mobilisation power that social media provides,
especially when protesters are faced with traditional news channels owned by authoritarian regimes. On top of that,
online social media platforms are inexpensive and relatively easy to set up. In 2010 Larry Diamond, a political
sociologist and leading contemporary scholar in the field of democracy studies,
introduced the term “Liberation Technology”. The definition used by Diamond for
his term is “any form of information and communication technology
(ICT) that can expand political, social and economic freedom. These include the
“new social media” such as Facebook and Twitter (Diamond, 2010, p.
Diamond indicates that these
“liberation technologies” are well suited for organizing grassroot movements and capable of reaching large groups quickly compared
to the slower radio, newspapers and television (Diamond, 2010).
It is not difficult to imagine how fast like-minded
protesters can gather using the rapid communication networks that this
technology provides. So there is little debate over the power that social media
technologies hold when it comes to organization and sharing of information and the activation and mobilization of crowds.
There are numerous examples of the successes that social media brought to
social movements. To name but a few: Burma’s Saffron Revolution in 2007 (Chowdhury, 2008) and social media-based
uprises of students in the United Kingdom
(Theocharis, 2013). In the case
of the Ukrainian Euromaidan the reasons for the participation of
protesters in social media have been
delineated by Metzger and Tucker. These
authors have showed that during the spring of 2014 most Ukrainians between the
ages of 15 and 54 were using the Internet as their main source of information
about the protests. This, to show that information consumption concerning the
protests did not come as much from traditional media sources. (Metzger, 2017). Furthermore,
as Joanna Szostek has shown, social media usage during the Euromaidan created “the
blurring of boundaries between journalism and activism, between media professionals
and civil society (Szostek, 2014, p. 6).” Social media is
not only faster than traditional media, as Metzger has shown, but also creates
an increased sense of involvement, as protestors are not merely consumers of
information, but protestors can actively partake in the sharing and creation of
online content, becoming as Szostek indicates journalists and activists.
Now that most people are convinced
of the impact social media can have on social movements mobilisation and partaking
in information sharing it is important to mention that social media is not the
only way of bringing together large crowds of people behind a cause. Social
media after all does not exist for a very long time. Facebook and Twitter are
relatively young platforms. It is important not to forget how social movements
were piloted before the onset of the social media and the internet. Historically,
word of mouth and the traditional media such as newspapers, radio and
television used to be the only way of communicating demands and organising
protest. The onset of Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006 have given the
possibility of shaping social revolutions in a new way. The question is whether
social media was key for organising the Euromaidan revolution, or that other
factors were of bigger importance.
It is obvious that social media brings advantages in terms of
organisation. It supports the mobilisation of mobs in minutes, where this used
to take longer in the ‘offline world’. However, there is no link between social
media and the success of a revolution. There are currently no reasons to assume
that social media will lead to the end of autocratic regimes. Movindri Reddy,
associate professor in diplomacy and world affairs and the author of “Can
Social Media Sustain a Revolution”, argues that social media is very important,
especially when the goal is to mobilise, but it should be stressed that successful
revolutionaries need “face-to-face interactions”. Reddy specifically stresses
the importance of “structural transformations” which are occupied with
identifying objectives of the revolutionary organisation (Reddy, 2013). This is largely in
line with the view of Daniel. P. Ritter (Who is a political sociologist
specializing in revolutions and social movements) and Alexander H. Trechsel
(Who is a professor of political science and political communication), authors
of the essay Revolutionary Cells: On the Role of Texts, Tweets, and Status
Updates in Nonviolent Revolutions, who assert that it would be historically improper
to claim that the absence of social media technologies would have rendered a
revolution impossible (Trechsel, 2011, p. 2). They conclude their
research with the statement that information technologies can affect the
process of nonviolent revolution, but that the impact of the outcome is
conditional on the situation in the country. (Trechsel, 2011, p. 23). Social media in the
view of the above authors is not a key player, it merely facilitates change.
Social media in itself does not bring structural transformation. For protestors
it is still very important, despite the popularity and effectiveness of social
media for mobilisation to place emphasis on face-to-face interactions, In other
words, information and mobilisation are not enough to really come to a successful
Social media has received
worldwide credit for being the aid for democracy (Johnson, 2012) (Evgeny Morozov, 2013). Clay Shirky, an
American writer who is occupied with social and economic effects of the
internet and social media states that social media will not harm democracy in
the short run and might even help in the long run, especially in states where a
public sphere already constrains the actions of the government (Clay, 2011,
However, journalist of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell argues that yes, social media might help, but he is critical
on the social investment that social media can bring to the table. Gladwell
argues that social media is well suited for optimizing the existing social
order, but social media technologies are not a natural enemy of the status quo (Gladwell, 2010 Issue). It is valuable to further
research the usefulness of social media in bringing about long term change to
democratic values. According to Gladwell, we should be careful to ascribe too much power to social
media in these areas. He argues that social media networks are less unified and
more weak than other types of networks and will not lead to the development of
civil society. (Gladwell, 2010 Issue). A writer who
disagrees with Gladwell is Kara Alaimo who is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or
Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic
Communication and a global public relations consultant. She argues that in the
case of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 social media was not a shallow tool and
that the movement was organized in a hierarchy and not in a network (Alaimo, 2015, p. 1). She goes on to
argue that in this specific case (The Egyptian Revolution) social media is a
more potent vehicle than has been fully appreciated (Alaimo, 2015, p.
So it is important to mention this positive exception to what seems to be an
overly negative atmosphere surrounding the
An important argument that emphasises why Gladwell and Morozov
think that social media promotes weak ties in social network groups is
“Slacktivism” or “Clicktivism” (“feel good online activism” (Morozov, 2009)). These pejorative
terms are used to show that social media can promote a lack of any real action
in the blogosphere (all of the blogs or bloggers on the Internet regarded
collectively (Merriam-Webster, 2018).)
(People merely engage
with each other on protest sites without really making any big changes in real
life. Clay also points out that social media activities are “low-costs
activities … that are long on bumper-sticker sentiment and short on any
useful action.” (Clay, 2011, p. 7). In addition, Morozov
warns about the phenomenon that social media platforms simply cannot maintain
the attention of their visitors long enough. In his view people simply do not
have the commitment for long-term political engagement, especially when that
support involves personal risk (Morozov E. , 2014). On the other hand,
in the case of the Maidan Revolution it cannot be denied that social media was
among the most important of tools available for protestors. This is affirmed by
Onuch (a leading expert in Ukrainian politics) (Onuch, 2015).
In her research she brings to attention Mustafa Nayem who at 20:00 on the
evening of the 21st of November (the day
that Yanukovych announced that he would not sign the association agreement) posted
on Facebook a call for action, not just to ‘like’ his post, but to meet at the
square (Onuch, 2015). Even though that it
seems like this post by Nayem was the catalyst for the rallying of protestors
to the square, Onuch stresses it is not so. She writes that “ICT’s were not the
central mechanism behind the mobilization of millions of Ukrainians across the
country, that is, Facebook did not ‘make’ people protest (Onuch, 2015).”
Perhaps it is necessary
to view the use of social media in the same light as other technological
achievements. Nuclear weapons are a dangerous tool in the hands of North Korea,
at the same time this technology can help to produce clean energy (Nuclear). The same logic
applies to social media. As Clay points out, even though “Slacktivism” is a
problem for the usefulness of social media, it can still be, in the right
motivated hands, a powerful tool to push for the desired change (Clay, 2011, p. 7). This view is shared
by Phillip N. Howard who argues that argument against the “Slacktivism
hypothesis” are that political engagement using social media is an addition to,
and not a substitute for how citizens would normally act in the political arena (Howard, 2016, p. 58). Howard argues, following
research conducted by Yu-Hao Lee and Gary Hsieh in “Does Slacktivism Hurt
Activism” that social media is especially useful around important political
events and helps people to construct their political identity and sense of
community (Yu-Hao Lee, 2013).
Wrapping it all up, there is no
causal link between social media and structural democratic change, however
there is vast evidence that social media contributes to organization and mobilization
for protest movements such as the Euromaidan. Social media is double edged
sword that can help increase a sense of unity as well as a sense of disunity.
Lastly, Bennet and Segerberg suggest that more research needs to be conducted
on the area of connective action formation to answer whether connective action
(read social media) is politically effective and sustained (Segerberg, 2012, p. 760).
Social media unfortunately does
not only amplify the voices of protesters of pro-democracy movements, but it
also amplifies the voices that work for keeping the status quo. As research has
shown semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes are increasingly more adapt
at suppressing information about events that are against the interest of the
state (Sanovich, 2017, p. 1). Clay acknowledges that governments
recognize that threats to legitimacy stem from inside of the regime. (Clay, 2011,
Which is why social media bots (fake accounts which are active on
the social media blogosphere) are operating from the inside to stop these
threats or to push for anti-democratic or pro-establishment outcomes. Diamond
stressed the need for some historical awareness. Just because the printed media
revolutionized the way in which information was consumed does not mean that the
technical revolution prevented the state from using the technology for its own
ends (Diamond, 2010, p. 71). In the essay “Turning the Virtual
Tables” Sanovich et Al. analyse 28 million tweets (between November
25, 2013 and July 13, 2015) on several topics including the Euromaidan
uprising. In this paper Sanovich et Al.
show that social media bots are used by the Ukrainian and Russian governments
as well as by the protesters of the Maidan (only in much smaller numbers) (Sanovich,
2017, p. 33). These players
can engage with users on social media to shape the online conversation (Sanovich, 2017, p. 3). The online
blogosphere has already become a battleground where countless actors can spread
real and fake news. The Government of Yanukovich also used electronic bots on
the social media, aimed at creating confusion on the Ukrainian Pravda Newsite
(Ukrainian Truth) pro-opposition site (Metzger, 2017). The problem with
all this confusion is that it becomes much harder to delineate what use social
media has for democratic change, if it can be harnessed by non-democratic governments.
This is why various scholars have pressed their concern about social media utopianism.
Morozov’s argument in the Net Delusion is
that if in any politically important event tweets get sent and people gather on
the streets, that a causal link is not necessarily present (Morozov, 2012, p. 16). Therefore we should
be careful to make any quick assumptions about the power that social movements
using social media have toward achieving real democratic societal change.
Perhaps it is necessary to pay due respect to what social media can do when it
is in ‘the wrong hands’. Furthermore, Morozov argues that if governments are
severely threatened by these “liberation technologies” they could always resort
to more traditional means of violence. Morozov writes : “as technological
methods lose efficacy, socio-political methods could simply overtake them: an
authoritarian government might find it harder to censor blogs, but still rather
easy to jail bloggers” (Morozov, 2011, p. 63) These bloggers can easily be identified using the same social
Social media technologies can also be used to spread news from
traditional (also state-owned) media faster. For example fragments of
television news can be posted on social media sites to create an “interaction
between traditional and new media, where new media platforms could provide an
opportunity for traditional media to be seen by more people (Tucker, 2017).” Even though social
media is serving a large audience as shown in the first chapter of this paper,
it is to some extent also working for
the state as research from Tucker et al. shows.
While the threat of authoritarian
governments using social media is real, the voices of the individual protesters
and members of social media revolution networks will not be overshadowed by it.
Governments do not have control over Facebook and Twitter and other social platforms. The social platforms will continue
to exist as powerful information sharing media. Sanovich indicates, that on top
of that it would hurt Putin’s reputation abroad if Facebook and Twitter were to
be completely blocked (Sanovich, 2017, p. 64). Diamond argues that
it is now up to democrats and autocrats to battle for supremacy over these
technologies. He argues that “political organisation and strategy and deep-rooted
normative, social, and economic forces will determine who “wins” the race. (Diamond, 2010, p. 70) ”
To conclude, social media does
have tremendous potential for the mobilisation or protest networks. Social
media can allow protest movements to gather on the streets very fast. It can be
significant in creating discussions on Facebook and Twitter that help shape a
protest movement such as the Euromaidan. Not only are these discussion
geographically bound, but they reach the entire world with internet connection.
Social media is significantly harder to control by anti-democratic regimes than
traditional forms of media and less expensive. Although it does not facilitate
democratic change in and by itself, but it can be a significant aid toward this
goal if strong face-to-face actions also take place.
At the same time social media is prone to be used by autocratic
regimes that wish to shape the online discourse. Social media can also be predisposed
to ‘Slacktivism’ which makes for ‘feel good’ activism, without any sustainable
long term results.
Further research needs to focus on to what extent a lack of online
strong link network impacts social media usefulness for protest.
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