IRE Conference Blog

Social media proves stronger than print during Ukraine protests

This post was originally published at Newsroom by the Bay

By Elijah Akhtarzad

The Investigative Reporters and Editors conference held at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco on June 27 included a first-hand account of the YanukovychLeaks discovery from journalists Olesya Ivanova and Denys Bigus. Both reporters were on the scene at Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s home immediately following his ouster from power and the discovery of thousands of hidden documents that were thrown into a nearby lake.

Ivanova and Bigus lived in Yanukovych’s home for more than seven days, reviving the wet documents that would reveal the corruption in the government that dominated Ukraine for three years under Yanukovych.

Other journalists accompanied Ivanova and Bigus to salvage what remained of the drenched documents by using blow dryers and even Yanukovych’s own home sauna. The discovery of the confidential documents caused Ukrainian people of all professions and communities to come together and unite in order to provide the journalists at the scene with needed materials such as scanners and food. Citizens volunteering to help the journalists communicated with them via a Facebook page.

“Ukrainians aren’t known for volunteering a lot,” Ivanova told the IRE conference. “It’s just not a habit in our country. But in this situation, people from different professions, of different age and of different knowledge of what even happened came with their own cars, their own equipment and with their own scanners. People just came out of nowhere bringing scanners and blow dryers, and worked every day and night, not sleeping or eating.”

Remarkably, it was the use of social media that helped connect the country to the journalists who were revealing the corruption that haunted their country during Yanukovych’s reign. The Facebook page set up by the journalists served as the main source of communication and aid between the Ukrainian citizens and journalists who remained at the scene for over a week. Without the Facebook page, Ivanova and Bigus said, they would have had very limited access to the outside world and would not have been able to recruit supporters and volunteers who delivered scanners, dryers and food to Yanukovich’s mansion, their work site.

With print journalism on the brink of vanishing and the web media taking over as the main source of news, Ivanova, Bigaus and the eight other journalists living in Yanukovych’s home proved that online media has a greater viewing reach and even a stronger influence globally than that of print.

When a wave of riots called Euromaidan started on November 13 in an effort to exile former president Yanukovych, Twitter exploded with an individual account under the handle @Euromaidan and the #euromaidan hashtag went viral.

“When you say to make Maidan, it means you are rising a big national protest and this has happened twice in our history, this time being the second,” Ivanova said.

“It all started with a famous Ukrainian journalists who posted on his Facebook profile that we need to come together and ‘make Maidan.’ This is how people gathered on the main square, and after that first day, more and more people gathered every day to protest peacefully at the square.”

Not only journalists, but also regular citizens fighting for a common cause were able to report breaking news on Twitter and let it go viral. The Euromaidan Twitter account reached 141,000 followers within days, and protesters used hashtag trends and Twitter accounts as a way to pressure the Yanukovych government and allow the country to view the demonstrations and be updated on what was happening at the Maidan Square in the Ukranian capital of Kiev.

With the use of social media, the Ukrainian citizens themselves were able to provide an outlet for the whole world to see the unrest in their country and Euromaidan protests. Essentially, they acted as journalists themselves without even acknowledging it. They used the network and reach capabilities of Facebook and Twitter to oust president Yanukovych and attempt to rid the country of corruption, showing that the power of online media is definitely challenging that of print.

 

Elijah Akhtarzad will be a senior this fall at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, California.

Newsroom by the Bay is an intensive digital journalism program for high school students, held every summer at Stanford University. Participants include students from across the U.S. and overseas, along with teachers and team leaders drawn from the nation's top high school and college journalism programs. For more information, please head to www.newsroombythebay.com or contact co-directors Beatrice Motamedi and Paul Kandell at newsroombythebay@gmail.com

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