Project on Information War and Ukraine

Last week at Western we hosted the second installment of the MEDIA AND CRISIS IN UKRAINE series. The series is focused on Ukraine’s ongoing events which present a striking case of a global phenomenon—the intersection of social movements, networked media and geopolitics. The demonstrators who gathered in Kyiv’s Independence Square to topple a regime not only occupied public space but also focused world-wide attention on their cause through social media. In doing so they also, however, sparked a networked conflict in which information, mis-information, dis-information, propaganda, censorship, digital coordination, viral messaging, diasporic mobilizations, on-line videography, surveillance, counter-surveillance, blackouts, hacking and outright cyber-war are all now crucial elements. These events are in many ways specific to Ukraine and its history—including the Orange Revolution, which in the 2000s provided an early example of the political uses of the Internet. But they also have telling similarities to the intersection of social movements, social media and international politics seen in the Arab Spring, Occupy and the “take the square “movements that exploded across the Eurozone in 2011. Ukraine now constitutes a living laboratory of the new forms of networked social struggle likely to redefine political life in the coming century.

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In the wake of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013, the Russian invasion in March 2014 and continuing events through this week’s presidential election, Ukraine has dominated news cycles around the globe for the past six months. Last week, leading Ukrainian academic Volodymyr Kulyk of the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine headlined Media and Crisis in Ukraine, which explored many of the issues surrounding this country in flux. The events were sponsored by the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) and Faculty of Engineering. Kulyk’s research investigates language-related attitudes and policy preferences of the Ukrainian population under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. Analyzing various ethnolinguistic and demographic groups’ perceptions of the actual and appropriate roles of the Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukrainian society, Kulyk is an expert in state policy with regard to these languages.

UKRAINIAN MEDIA AND INFORMATION WAR

a lecture by Dr. Volodymyr Kulyk

June 3, 2014 | Western University

Suggested readings (by Dr. Kulyk):

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INFORMATION CONTROL AND REVOLUTION

a round table discussion

June 5, 2014 | Western University

 DISCUSSION:

It has become clear that the Ukrainian crises triggered the information war, which retrieved and fortified the worst of the old-fashioned Cold War discourses with their binaries, stereotypes, myths, symptoms and fears. Our round table discussion focused on the technologies and techniques of this information war in relation to Ukraine’s (geo)political and social contexts. We began with several general questions to all participants:

  • What is ‘information war’? Where are its virtual and real territories? Do we distinguish between them at all? What is the scope of this information war? Who are the participants (enemies, allies; neutral parties, if any)? Who is in control? What technologies are used?
  • Is there one information war or are there several information wars? How, on what bases, can we identify them (i.e. by hardware and/or software technologies, territories, participants, ideologies, strategies and so on)?
  • What does it mean to lose an information war?

We approached these questions through different lenses – by speaking about information war and revolutions; about the specifics of the information warfare in the case of Ukraine; about Russia’s attitude to International Law; about the consumers of disinformation / propaganda especially in the world and within different parts of Ukraine and Russia. We discussed the political architecture of cyberspace and the technical structure of hardware and software, the use and potential abuse of mobile technologies: i.e. the reported instances of violation of users’ privacy and even threatening users by text messages in the cases of such mobile service providers as Kyivstar, MTS Ukraine, and Life as well as “grey” providers and other issues of their performance during the protests in Kyiv and the occupation of Crimea. We also spoke about viral effects of trolling, the production of affect by social networks as well as the meanings and controversies of Edward Snowden’s stay in Russia in the midst of such events as the annexation of Crimea by Russia and its aggression in the East of Ukraine.

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Round table participants:

Prior to joining Western Law Professor Anna Dolidze served at a number of international and non-governmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the Russian Justice Initiative, and Save the Children. In 2004-2006 Dolidze was the President of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, the largest legal advocacy organization in the Republic of Georgia. She also served at the National Constitutional Commission, Commission for the Human Rights in Prisons and the Expert Commission for Georgia’s European Integration. Before joining Western Law as Assistant Professor in 2013, Anna Dolidze was hosted at Western as Scholar at Risk.

Nick Dyer-Witheford is Associate Professor and Acting Dean in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at University of Western Ontario. He is author of Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism (University of Illinois, 1999), co-author, with Stephen Kline and Greig de Peuter of Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing (McGill-Queen’s, 2003), and with Greig de Peuter of Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009). He is currently working on a manuscript, Cyber-Proletariat:  Global Labour in the Digital Vortex.

Aleksander Essex is an assistant professor of software engineering at Western University focusing on topics in cyber security, applied cryptography and health privacy. During his postdoc at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute he designed secure protocols for applications in privacy preserving medical informatics. His graduate work focused on trustworthy electronic voting and was part of an international research group that ran the first cryptographically-verifiable public election in the United States. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo.

Volodymyr Kulyk is a head research fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in Kyiv. He has also taught at Columbia, Stanford and Kyiv Mohyla Academy as well as having research fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Woodrow Wilson Center, University College London, University of Alberta and other Western scholarly institutions. His research fields include the politics of language, memory and identity in contemporary Ukraine, language ideologies and media discourse, on which he has widely published in Ukrainian and Western journals and collected volumes. Kulyk is the author of three books, the latest being Dyskurs ukraїnskykh medii: identychnosti, ideolohiї, vladni stosunky (The Ukrainian Media Discourse: Identities, Ideologies, Power Relations; Kyiv, 2010). He also guest edited a special issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language on the topic ‘Languages and Language Ideologies in Ukraine’ (2010).

Serguei Primak, was born in former USSR, had attended secondary and high school in Luts, Ukraine. He has obtained his Master’s degree in Radio and TV communications from St. Petersburg University of Telecommunications Russia in 1991. He has received his PhD in Electrical Engineering/Communications Theory from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He is currently an Associate Professor at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Western. His research interest includes modern communications theory, systems and networking.

Kadie Ward is a Marketer and Economic Developer. As an award-winning multimedia producer, she has created and activated several international campaigns aimed at attracting foreign direct investment and talent. Her research has been published and presented to both local and international audiences. Most recently Ward work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to design and deliver workshops on city branding to representatives from twelve Ukrainian cities. A graduate of Western University with a Master’s in Media Studies, Ward has been teaching “Social Media for Organizations” and “Managing Public Relations” with the Faculty of Information and Media studies at Western.