The important role that social media has played, and continues to play, in challenging corporate media narratives on Russia was demonstrated in full recently. Last Monday it was reported by various mainstream outlets, including the BBC, CNN, Politico, Sky News and Reuters, that Italian police had seized a cache of weapons and Nazi memorabilia linked to a neo-Nazi group based in northern Italy which had been fighting with the Donbass separatists.
For anyone who is familiar with the dynamics of the Ukraine conflict, this was a glaring error. It has long been known that Ukrainian nationalists, fighting against the separatists, include various fascist, neo-Nazi groups who since the very beginning of the Ukraine conflict have waged a war against all that was Russian. The Ukraine crisis was itself rooted in this antagonism towards ethnic Russians which led the people of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea to reject the Maidan movement and all it symbolised. For it was a movement with no place for Russian speakers.
Nevertheless, as has been the case since the crisis began in 2014, the western mainstream media have continued to misrepresent the realities of the Ukraine conflict. Despite the fact the Italian police issued a clear statement which said the seized weapons had been used "against [pro-Russian] separatists", somehow along the way this was ‘mistranslated’ as to say the exact opposite.
The BBC headline was ‘Italy Seizes Missile in Raids on Far-Right’ with a sub-heading which read ‘Some of the groups in Italy are said to be linked to pro-Russian militants in Ukraine’. After the inaccuracy unleashed a backlash on Twitter, with academics and journalists highlighting the blatant mistake, the BBC later updated its article to omit the part about pro-Russian militants. It nevertheless still succeeds in muddying the waters by stating ‘The police did not make it clear which side the Italians were on in this case.’- which of contradicts the original police statement.
In general the BBC article gives an entirely misleading account of the situation in Ukraine. By stating ‘More than 10,000 people have died in fighting since the heavily-armed separatists launched an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in April 2014’ one would think that it was the people of Eastern Ukraine who began the violence.
By promoting the narrative that the Russian separatists are the instigators of the conflict, it fails to demonstrate that for the last 5 years the Ukrainian leadership, which has contained fascist elements, has been waging a war on its own people, a people whose only crime was to reject right-wing Ukrainian nationalism in the face of apartheid-style measures which are still being implemented today with regard to Russian language and culture.
Unfortunately, other mainstream outlets were no different, such is the nature of the corporate media echo-chamber today. Some have updated their stories to omit the link to Russia, others have left it. Perhaps what is most surprising of all however is the fact that a story detailing neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine was carried at all.
Despite being widely reported in Russian media since the beginning of the conflict, western media has remained largely silent on what is a decidedly unsavoury aspect of the Maidan revolution. It was obviously considered a price the West was willing to pay to for an anti-Russian government in Ukraine.
What has been reassuring in this case however has been the reaction of academics and journalists on social media. Before the days of world wide web and Twitter and Facebook there simply wasn’t a platform available for putting forward an alternative narrative, or in this case, a correct one. The outcry on Twitter led by, amongst others, British academic Tim Hayward was able to generate enough of a reaction for these mainstream outlets to at least update their stories.
Gone are the days when the media was able to promote narratives without being held to account, such as during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 when dissenting voices went virtually unheard. Now social media has provided essential forums for debate and analysis of mainstream media. Although Twitter and Facebook themselves are facing more and more restrictions, we can only hope that they continue to provide this much-needed platform to counter western government narratives vis-à-vis Russia, in a time when the truth is more under threat than ever before.