September 30, 2022
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister to act on Twitter-shaming firm Russia’s invasion

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister is calling on Twitter by name to push big tech companies to punish them over Russia’s invasion — and it’s having an effect.

Marshaling his government’s social media savvy and deep international wellspring of sympathies, Mykhailo Fedorov’s feed has become a list of firms opposing Moscow or coming to the aid of Ukraine.

“We need your support – modern technology is probably the best answer to tanks, multiple rocket launchers and missiles in 2022,” he wrote in a letter he tweeted Friday to Apple chief Tim Cook.

As of Tuesday the iPhone maker had announced that sales in Russia had been halted, and Apple Pay services were limited.

The 31-year-old minister also visited Cook in the United States last year, with the two discussing topics ranging from training opportunities at the Apple Store in Ukraine.

Fedorov’s callout gained momentum after his tweets seeking Cook’s support, with the latter noting that Ukraine’s government had asked Google, Netflix, YouTube and Facebook to cut Russia.

While those companies have not completely severed ties, all have announced actions ranging from a ban on the dissemination of Russian state-owned media to opposing Kremlin requirements.

“You hold them accountable that way,” Larisa Doroshenko, a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern University in Boston, said on Twitter of the impact of calling out companies.

“It’s a very sensible, very strategic way of social media because you can do it behind closed doors or … you can make it public,” she said.

Fedorov, who is responsible for Ukraine’s digital affairs, is part of a government that has incorporated social media into its communications strategy from the beginning.

Doroshenko said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s campaign engaged with people on social media during the 2019 election, and that his government has been doing so once in power.

‘Thanks to the people of Ukraine’

Since Russia’s invasion last week, the 44-year-old president has used his eye for modern image management and honed skills as an actor to deliver provocative messages on social media.

“It is adapted for these war times,” Doroshenko said.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the most dangerous global moments in decades, with tensions rising as the West imposes unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia.

At the same time, support for beleaguered Ukraine has ranged from kind words to an influx of money, supplies and weapons.

“There are literally millions of people on the Internet wanting to try and do something,” said Omar Waso, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in California.

“So if he (Fedorov) does this callout of a particular company, and then thousands of people like and retweet it then he’s going to get the attention of the social media managers and ultimately the CEOs of those companies,” he said.

Fedorov’s tweet, along with the appeal letter to Cook, has so far received more than 10,600 likes and retweets.

The tweet asking Tesla boss Elon Musk for Starlink satellite internet service got more than 200,000 likes and retweets.

“When you try to colonize Mars – Russia tries to occupy Ukraine!” The message began, with over 588,000 likes and retweets on Fedorov’s tweet showing Starlink terminals.

“In Ukraine, having the image of a young democracy, we see social media being used by regular people and people in power alike,” Doroshenko said.

Fedorov has maintained his stream of callouts, urging video game developers such as Riot Games to shut down any operations in Russia. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He also tweeted letters he sent to German software firm SAP and US tech giant Oracle, urging them to cut any ties with Russia, “More sanctions imposed – speedily restore peace to Ukraine!”

“Oracle Corporation has already suspended all operations in the Russian Federation”, the company replied, drawing on this message from Fedorov: “With gratitude from all independent peoples of Ukraine!”

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