Twiplomacy against Viruses On Challenges and Opportunities of the New Era of Information Diplomacy

  • Post category:Issue XX

Oleksandr Kharchenko
Ukrinform Director

Heorhii Tykhyi


Abstract. In recent years, the official Twitter of Ukraine has amply demonstrated several examples of successful twiplomacy. @Ukraine account came into being on 2 June 2016 through shared endeavour and ardour on the part of the Presidential Administration. It owes its existence and development to the three inspired young people, namely Yarema Dukh, Oleh Naumenko and Artem Zhukov, professional communicationists. Twitter accounts of countries are nothing new. Such virtual representations have long been administered by France, Canada, Norway, Russia and others. As a rule, foreign office staffs are in charge of these accounts, filling it with quite neutral content on tourist and investment appeal of their respective countries or holiday greetings.
However, in 2017, Ukraine’s Twitter set a new standard for global twiplomacy. It goes un-challenged that a spillover effect of the Russo-Ukrainian war could not fail to include virtual space. It began in May 2017 with a humorous message, in which the official Ukrainian page responded in a specific way to Russia’s attempt to arrogate to itself the memory of Anna Yaroslavna, daughter of the Grand Prince of Kyiv and wife of Henry I of France. It happened in the immediate aftermath of the Russian President’s bigoted statements during his visit to Versailles. While dwelling on historically close ties between Russia and France, the leader of the terrorism-sponsoring state decided for some reason to recall Anna Yaroslavna in an attempt to depict the friendly relations between the two countries.
In its message, Ukraine reminded the correct historical sequence in a digitally kind manner: in 1051, when Anna Yaroslavna became queen of France, Moscow was still a boggy birch forest. The official Russian response was not long in coming in its inherently imperial style: according to it, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have a common history and only politicians “divided the fraternal peoples”.
Ukraine’s response was very succinct: “You really don’t change, do you?” with an attached video extract from the popular Simpsons animated sitcom, where in one of the scenes a Russian representative in the UN Security Council bangs his fist on table, causing “Russia” nameplate to flip and reveal the thinly disguised “Soviet Union.”
In an unexpected turn of events, this picture and six words above resonated in the hearts of the Western audience making Ukraine’s humorous response go viral. When the number of retweets reached tens of thousands, world media outlets turned it into a breaking news. In a matter of hours, the message about the Ukraine-Russia clash in Twitter became a talk of the town owing to dozens of international outlets, inter alia, The Daily Beast, Mashable and CNN. In less than an overnight, the message garnered nearly 40,000 shares and more than 100,000 likes. CNN called the event “an example of groundbreaking diplomacy”, and The Daily Beast noted that by using the gif, Ukraine “threw major shade” at Russia. Certainly, all the world media, which wrote about the event, also had to explain to their readers that Anna Kyivska was the daughter of the Grand Prince of Kyiv, to whom Russia has a dubious link, and that now there is a war ongoing between Ukraine and Russia. These messages were there to serve as a much-needed reminder in the world media outlets at the time when Western audiences were no longer receiving reports of hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
That way, the three young communication specialists from Ukraine emerged victorious in an important information battle with the entire Russian Foreign Ministry department in charge of the Russian Twitter account, owing to their savvy, wit, and insight into the West-ern cultural context, courage to act outside the box and trespass the confines of the bureaucratic red tape. The courage has borne generous fruit, displaying Ukraine’s progressiveness and creativity, while also attracting extensive international coverage, which unanimously awarded Kyiv victory in one of the first twitter battles of the two states.
Keywords: Twitter, twiplomacy, professional communicationists, pubic diplomacy, image formation

Download Article (ukr)