What role social networks played in Ukraine’s parliamentary vote – key findings of the research

The social media activity of both political parties as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌ordinary‌ ‌users largely defined the results of the snap parliamentary elections in Ukraine. While little has changed in the behaviour of Ukrainians on Facebook, Instagram, and VK since the start of the pre-election campaign, some tendencies do correlate with the results. To see how narratives about Ukraine’s political parties have changed before and after the elections, Singularex and Internews Ukraine for the period from June 17 to July 14 2019 analyzed the Ukrainian segment of the three most popular social networks in Ukraine, namely Facebook, Instagram and VK.

We suggest 10 key conclusions of the research.

 

  1. Polarization between Poroshenko and Zelensky faded

The division of Ukrainian Facebook and VK communities by the presidential race had changed with a reshuffle of positions in ratings ahead of the parliamentary elections. Rivalry between supporters of Volodymyr Zelensky and Petro Poroshenko faded on all three social media platforms. On Facebook criticism was dispersed among different parties. Likewise, Ukrainian VK users were rather polarized on ideological than on political grounds. On Instagram, the most popular hashtag on Zelensky was four times greater than that of Poroshenko (9,642 to 2,259 users, respectively).

  1. Zelensky is discussed the most

In line with the election results, Zelensky got most of the attention on all three social networks. VK users posted four times more about his party, Servant of the People, than on Poroshenko’s European Solidarity. Despite the fact that the official pages of the latter and the Opposition Platform made it to the top on Facebook, its user activity proved different. Zelensky’s party had twice as many mentions as all posts about other four parties together (17 945 to 9 519, respectively). On Instagram, the number was more than double.

  1. Servant of the People as the new scapegoat

Finding himself in the spotlight, Zelensky is often slagged off both on Facebook and on VK. In the top posts about elections and the party in particular, negative rhetoric prevails over positive rhetoric. Facebook users often criticize his appointments and “Ze-MPs” for “nepotism” and their lack of experience. Such topics are common subjects for VK’s pro-Russian opinion leaders, in addition to the war-related topics among other users. As on Facebook, VK’s top pro-Ukrainian users, who are mostly Poroshenko’s supporters, blame Servant of the People and Zelensky for similar reasons, while praising Poroshenko.

  1. Instagram still under Ze-rule

In terms of reactions, Instagram remains Zelensky’s safe haven. Unlike other parties, Servant of the People has a wide range of accounts and profiles which work for the benefit of its reputation. Those are numerous fan clubs (ze.country, zeukraine.2019, zelenskiypub, mr.zelenskiy, zelenskiy.95, zelenskiyfans), accounts devoted to Kvartal-95, its members and other projects (Laughter League, his comedy project).

  1. Insta-reshuffle: Holos got ahead

In spite of Ze-dominance, the record high number of posts about Servant of the People (82% in the first period) dropped to 60%. The shift of powers on Instagram also turned into a significant loss for European Solidarity. Its share of users’ attention fell from 17% to 8.5%. Here, the Opposition Platform and Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna fell far behind. As expected, Holos managed to mobilize the audience ahead of the elections, having drawn 13% of its attention (compared to 5% in the previous period).

  1. No mercy to anyone: negative rhetoric prevails

On Facebook, negative rhetoric still prevails over positive rhetoric with regard to all parties, except for Batkivshchyna. Negative posts accounted for 53% in contrast to 10% of positive ones. Meanwhile, the official Facebook pages of political parties have the reverse trend: 98% of all posts for all parties, except for OP, were positive. On VK, the trend for negativity has amplified since the start of the campaign with regard to the top three parties that are visible in top posts. On Instagram, positive emotions outweighed negative ones in posts about all parties, except for European Solidarity (49% negative, 29% positive posts).

  1. Links with Russia as a red flag

Waves of harsh criticism against the Opposition Platform gained momentum on Facebook. Almost 88% of party-related posts on Facebook were negative, and only 0.6% of positive rhetoric was seen. Boiko’s party is often blamed and shamed along with the Opposition Bloc and Shariy’s party. Facebook users called them ‘murderers’, ‘Ukrainophobes’, ‘bloodstained’ and ‘Putin bastards’. Likewise on Facebook, VK pro-Ukrainian users referred to OP as the “three-headed ‘Medvedchuk-Rabinovich-Boiko’ dragon” which Zelensky and his team hardly oppose.

  1. Pro-Ukrainian users did not give up on VK

On VK, users with a pro-Ukrainian standpoint failed to compete with the pro-Russian ones in terms of dissemination of messages. However, they remained quite active in countering the pro-Russian narratives about Ukrainian politics. A Poroshenko supporter from Kharkiv was in the top of opinion leaders by number of reactions (5,130 compared to 2,235 reactions to the most popular post by a pro-Russian political analyst). Nonetheless, VK’s top list of Ukrainian users is mainly pro-Russian or supportive of the self-proclaimed republics in Donbas.

  1. Anti-Ukrainian rhetoric aggravated on VK

The domination of Pro-Russian views on Ukrainian parties and elections was clearly seen in VK’s common hashtags and information sources. Some top hashtags about the elections referred to Maidan, Crimea, “Novorossiya”. To underline intolerance towards anything Ukrainian, VK’s users spread messages under the Kremlin’s label for Ukraine as a failed state (#страна404), and for the Ukrainian media (#укросми). Besides the proposed TV-bridge between NewsOne and a Russian propaganda channel, the conflict in Donbas was among the top interests. VK lambasted all Ukrainian future MPs for their words or initiatives, even Medvedchuk.

Pro-Russian narratives did not make it to the top posts either on Facebook or on Instagram.

  1. Similar reactions persisted after the elections

In the first week after July 21, little changed. The record high results of the Servant of the People spurred in the number of posts and reactions on Facebook. The most popular post about this party (8,900 likes and 8,100 shares) bashed Zelensky for failing to help the Ukrainian delegation in PACE. Other posts about those parties were both critical and hopeful. Ukrainian Facebook remained united in its reaction to the Opposition Platform, though the most popular post gathered less than 1k likes.

VK proved to be indifferent to the results of the elections. The most popular post (106 likes), made by an anti-Ukrainian user, mocked Servant of the People’s leader Dmytro Razumkov, who said there would be no amnesty for Russian-backed militants in Ukraine.

The research was carried out upon an initiative by the NGO Internews-Ukraine, with Neural Networks and methods of Artificial Intelligence.  Analysts dug into the relative top opinion leaders, top posts, internal and external sources, as well as hashtags to follow reactions to the latest stage of the parliamentary elections campaign. In the period from June 17 to July 14 2019, we analyzed:

  • 31 147 political posts on Facebook
  • 11 258 political posts on VK
  • 31 223 posts with political hashtags on Instagram.

To understand how Ukrainians reacted to the results, we studied almost 400 top posts on Facebook and VK about Parliament and the top 5 parties. In the period of July 22-28, we looked into data from:

  • 200 000 Facebook profiles
  • 1 004 139 VK profiles.

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