Feedback from “Disinformation and the Role of Influencers in Social Media during Crises, Conflicts, and Wars” Program’s participants by the Aspen Institute Germany

The year of collaborative work, 2 study tours, and two online workshops — between 6 and 8 December, the Aspen Institute Germany held the final stage of the program “Disinformation and the Role of Influencers in Social Media during Crises, Conflicts, and Wars.”

The Aspen Institute Germany initiated the project with the support of the Aspen Institute Kyiv, Aspen Institute Central Europe, and Aspen Institute Romania.

Influencers play a crucial role in the information environment. With the increasing consumption of news through social networks, they thought leaders had become an alternative to traditional media due to the needs and trust of their followers. At the same time, there is a severe threat to democratic societies – the spread of knowingly false information, resulting in the need for collective interaction between influencers and society to combat it. This is particularly relevant for Ukraine, which has been facing Russian disinformation as a weapon for the past ten years.

Therefore, participants from different countries in this project shared their experiences combating disinformation and the language of hostility. An essential stage of the program was creating recommendations, which will be presented to policymakers, social media platforms, and non-governmental organizations to build a secure information environment worldwide.

Aspen Institute Kyiv nominated six participants; some shared their impressions of participating in the program and thoughts on the acquired expertise.

Anna Danylchuk: 

The ‘Disinformation and the Role of Influencers in Social Media during Crises, Conflicts, and Wars’ project brought together representatives from various social networks working in different fields and countries who want to be socially beneficial. In times of war and crises, social networks perform an entertaining function and become a field of real information warfare. The project allowed us to share our own experiences and challenges, get answers to complex and non-obvious questions, and most importantly, unite into a community always ready to help.

Anastasiia Ivanycheva:

During one of the meetings within the program in Berlin, a tragedy occurred at the Kakhovska HPP in Ukraine. I am from Kherson; it is my homeland, my Motherland, so I have been deeply touched by the region’s life during the occupation, de-occupation, and current. I saw how information management and conveying honest meanings could influence people and their support, how strongly my story impacted fundraising, how information spread across all communication channels, and how it affected people. I concluded that our task is to transparently transmit information through personal stories and examples in dialogue, as the disinformation used by our enemies also has a certain impact and shapes the perception of the European community about what is happening in Ukraine.

Yulia Tymoshenko:

I believe programs that help influencers, the government, and the community interact more are critical. As we discussed during the program, those who want to use the influence of people on social media for bad purposes are already doing it. This is how disinformation, propaganda, and so on emerge. Perhaps the program was crucial for us as influencers to convince ourselves of our impact again. Not only that, but also the responsibility towards society, our audience, and ourselves first of all: to verify the information we spread, understand how a particular statement can affect society, or, for example, if there is a war in your country, how it can harm.”

Yulia Yanchar:

The six-month course from the Aspen Institute Germany revealed the scale of disinformation spread and the real awareness situation of governments in both Eastern and Western Europe regarding Russian propaganda. The program brought double benefits, as it was an opportunity to learn more about resistance mechanisms and share our own media experience, talk about fact-checking, and disseminate information to a wide audience.

Iryna Palko:

The theme of propaganda and disinformation is highly relevant now, especially during the war. I liked that this seminar included a practical part, as we were developing a handbook of recommendations on what to do in situations of disinformation and how to react when you, as a thought leader, are under such influence. It’s also essential that the participants were from different countries. We could hear their thoughts and feel the support for Ukraine.