Hazrat M. Bahar is a PhD candidate at School of Journalism and Communication, of Shanghai University and faculty at Shaikh Zayed University in Khost province of Afghanistan. His research interests focus on international issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has published academic works such as “Social media and disinformation in war propaganda: how Afghan government and the Taliban use Twitter”.
In history, media reports will trigger a series of political effects, and even have an impact on the war process. The emergence of new media may continue to amplify this effect. In addition, as a platform with low threshold and large audience, new media itself may also be used as a publicity tool by any person or organization. In response to these problems, the Center conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Hazrat Bahar, hoping to understand his views on the role of new media in international politics and the security of public opinion in the context of the Russia-Ukrain crisis.
Hazrat Bahar：Social Media is Changing Political Events
Social media plays vital roles in Ukraine case. Social networking sites are double-edged swords, and disinformation or misinformation are not new phenomenon when it comes to social media. The trend is changing vis-a-vis political events, and Ukraine is not an exception. One of the main purposes of disinformation is to twist a reality. However, disseminating timely information during a crisis is essential and can help in instilling your own narrative, which may not necessarily be dis/misinformation. I wonder if a country’s defense or military strategy could be changed because of social media, however countries do care about general trend generated on online platform. Today, war (intrastate and interstates) is not fought only on the front lines, rather belligerents use all available resources to fight, and given the wider prevalence, availability and affordability of social media, countries have already included social media as a part of their tactics of war. This is one of the reasons that some countries have already limited or blocked some online platforms in their virtual domain, a recent example is Russia.
People used to rely heavily on mainstream media, which is no longer the case anymore. Citizens are rapidly becoming ‘netizens’ and smartphone is one of the dominant medium for receiving, generating and disseminating information. They record and post incidents that are happening in front of them on the ground, which would otherwise go unreported particularly during a time of crisis. These are made possible because of the decentralised nature of social networking sites where you are free, though not in many countries, and need no one or gatekeeper to filter your information prior to sharing. Such genuine information, though subject to manipulation and disinformation thus shall be received cautiously, is helpful in exposing the hardships caused by the belligerents. Such eyewitness accounts are picked both by mainstream media and global actors and it consequently builds pressure primarily on the aggressor. Regarding the efforts that the management of social media have undertaken to make the effects of propaganda and PR more transparent and easily understandable, this action per se is essential, it must have been taken quite earlier. They shall be more transparent not only in making promotional or propagandistic information but also in their revenue and how/who is sponsoring these materials. However, such actions or measures are in many cases influenced either by interest or political affiliations.
Majority of the social media users are not media savvy, they lack media literacy or more specifically social media literacy. This point has been rightly identified primarily by political actors and they are wisely utilizing it. This doesn’t mean that what is happening in Ukraine should not receive greater attention, rather what I want to say is, we, as a part of the greater majority, are affected; our emotions are influenced by what we read and watch. Our response can potentially influence global response.
Interview time: 2022.03.31
Contact person: Chen Liyuan
Interviewer: Zhang Ran
Translator: Li Yuhan
Corrector: Xu Houkun