By: Francesca Visser
5 December 2023
This analysis measures attitudes towards Ukraine among the top shared posts on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, to understand potential changes over time as well as differences across geographies. The findings evidence an increasing penetration of anti-Ukraine rhetoric among highly engaged posts on Facebook and X.
Using Brandwatch and Crowdtangle, ISD analysts retrieved the top ten most shared posts using keywords related to Ukraine in English, Spanish and German. To measure changes over time, ISD compared the top ten posts for three months in 2022 and 2023, namely June, July and August.
In total, ISD collected 360 posts, 180 from X and 180 from Facebook pages, public groups, and verified profiles.
The posts were subsequently coded for their attitude towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, and qualitative analysis of the posts was conducted to identify common themes and changing trends.
Posts were categorised as anti-Ukraine when they included an essentialised portrayal of Ukraine or its citizens in a negative light, sought to foster resentment towards Ukraine and/or Ukrainians, or promote conspiratorial or unverified accusations about Ukraine/Ukrainians.
Summary of findings
- Of the 360 posts analysed across Facebook and X, 34.7% (125) included a negative stance against Ukraine;
- Negative posts about Ukraine increased by 97.6%, rising from 42 posts in 2022 to 83 posts in 2023, while the number of positive posts in support of Ukraine witnessed a decrease of 68%, dropping from 35 to 11;
- Results across platforms showed some consistency: neutral attitudes were predominant, followed by negative and finally positive attitudes. Posts on X were more polarised, while Facebook posts tended to be neutral. Of 125 negative posts, 74 were on X, along with 31 out of 46 positive posts;
- Attitudes towards Ukraine varied between languages, with English having the highest number of positive posts (33) and German having the highest number of negative posts (52). However, a change towards more negative attitude was identified across all languages including English, where positive posts decreased from 26 out of 60 in 2022 to 7 in 2023;
- Among the most shared posts about Ukraine, ISD identified a total of 12 posts that contained false claims, which received a total of 81K shares. Only three of these posts were taken down or included a fact check;
- In Germany, individuals and pages tied to the political party AfD were among the most prominent drivers of discussion about Ukraine. On Facebook, out of the 60 posts analysed over the two years, 43% came from AfD;
- Another prominent driver of German language discussions about the war in Ukraine was politician Sahra Wagenknecht, who authored 24 of the 120 posts in German;
- Among Spanish posts, eight included content from Russian state media or were posted by accounts linked to the Russian state. Three of these were posted on X, and five on Facebook, garnering a total of 16K shares;
Stance towards Ukraine
As a first step, the top ten most shared posts published on X and Facebook were coded for their attitude towards Ukraine and Ukrainians. In total, out of 360 posts across the two platforms, 125 posts were labelled as negative. These included criticism against Ukraine, its leader, or the population, such as the portrayal of Ukrainians as Nazis, intrinsically corrupt, or racist.
A common trend among negative posts was to juxtapose the help provided to Ukraine with the alleged precarious status of domestic populations, especially the most vulnerable. This strategy seeks to foster resentment towards domestic governments and Ukrainian refugees in their host countries.
A total of 189 posts were coded as neutral. These mostly consisted of reporting about the war delivered in an objective and non-partisan way, without additional opinions or favouritism. However, of these neutral posts, 34 represented edge cases where, although the posts themselves did not contain a negative stance towards Ukraine, they included calls to end sanctions against Russia or military support for Ukraine. The stated motivation was that such measures were only prolonging the conflict or ruining the domestic economy.
A minority of posts, 46/360, were labelled as positive. These posts typically praised Ukraine, its leader, or its people. They often called for support for the country in its war against Russia.
A comparison between negative attitudes from 2022 to 2023 shows that the number of negative posts increased by 97%, rising from 42 in 2022 to 83 in 2023.
The number of positive posts in support of Ukraine also witnessed a decrease of 68%, from 35 to 11.
Although results across platforms reflected the same trends, with a predominance of neutral attitudes followed by negative and positive attitudes, posts on X tended to be more polarised than posts on Facebook, which were more likely to be neutral. Specifically, out of 125 negative posts, 74 were posted on X, as well as 31 of 46 positive posts
Results across languages
Attitudes towards Ukraine varied across languages, with English having the highest number of positive posts (33) and German having the highest number of negative posts (52).
Despite the higher overall number of positive posts in English, a comparison of the top posts for the two years analysed reveals a dramatic change. In 2022, 26 of 60 posts had a positive attitude towards Ukraine, but this number decreased to 7 in 2023. Meanwhile, negative posts increased from 5 in 2022 to 30 in 2023.
A significant driver of negative posts about Ukraine, especially in 2023, were allegations of collusion between the Biden family and Ukrainian oligarchs. About 34% (12) of the negative posts about Ukraine made reference to this affair, with strong criticism directed towards President Joe Biden and Ukraine; the latter of which was repeatedly accused of money laundering.
German consistently had the lowest number of pro-Ukraine posts among the most shared content in both years, with only 4 posts in the summer of 2022 and 1 post in 2023.
An analysis of the accounts and pages behind the top shared content in Germany revealed accounts tied to the political party AfD prominently featured among the top ten posts. Out of the 120 posts analysed in German, 32 of them were posted by figures linked to AfD. These posts were evenly distributed, with 16 posted in 2022 and 16 in 2023, indicating consistent performance over the two years. Most of these posts came from Facebook, where of 60 posts analysed over two years, 43% (26) were posted by individuals and pages tied to AfD. These posts often included criticism of the Greens and the government for money spent on Ukraine, as well as a juxtaposition of the help provided to Ukrainians versus the domestic population.
Another prominent driver of discussions about the war in Ukraine was politician Sahra Wagenknecht, who authored 24 of 120 posts in German. Her most shared posts included criticism of sanctions against Russia, which she claims have been ineffective at weakening Russia and detrimental to the German economy. She also claimed that supporting the provision of weapons to Ukraine would only prolong the war. Wagenknecht recently made headlines for her newly founded party, “Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht” (BSM) (in English: the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance), which advocates for a more neutral stance toward Russia and a more confrontational stance on NATO and immigration.
Among the Spanish posts, eight included content from Russian state media or were posted by accounts tied to the Russian state. Three were posted on X, and five on Facebook, collectively amassing 16K shares. No content from Russian state media was identified in the other two languages.
In total, ISD identified three videos from RT posted by accounts or pages not affiliated with Russian state media. In addition, one of the posts was published by the Russian Embassy in Mexico, three by accounts of Ahí les Va, a Spanish-language program which is part of RT, and one by a journalist at RT. This finding indicates that Russian state media content in Spanish continues to receive considerable engagement.
Disinformation among popular posts about Ukraine
A total of 12 of the most shared posts (three on Facebook, and nine on X) appeared to contain disinformation and received a total of 81K shares.
Only two of these posts, included a fact check or additional context, and one was taken down. Six out of the 12 posts were posted in Spanish (one was taken down), two were in German (one contained a fact check), and four were in English. One of the English posts contained a warning with additional context and a fact check provided by readers.
Of these posts containing disinformation, one included a debunked video claiming that the Ukraine Defence Minister had purchased a 7m Euro mansion in Cannes for his daughter’s wedding present. The post received over 18K shares and 2.3M views despite a warning debunking some of the claims made in the post.
An AI generated video of Ukrainian Prime Minister Zelensky snorting cocaine was the fourth most shared Ukraine-related content on Facebook in June 2022, receiving over 12K shares, despite featuring a warning that the video contained false information along with a fact check in Georgian.
Another video which was shared on X, receiving over 4,000 shares and 108K views alleged to show children being found in the back of a lorry in London, claiming they were smuggled from Ukraine by a network of paedophiles. A debunking of the video was published by LeadStories; however, the video did not include any warning or fact check.
Another popular debunked claim that continued to spread unchecked on X was a post alleging that CNN had published a picture of the same man announcing his death both in Ukraine and Afghanistan. Similar claims have circulated in the past, alleging that CNN had announced his death both in Afghanistan and in the Uvalde school shooting. These claims were found to stem from X accounts impersonating the news outlets (see image below).
The analysis above sheds light on the concerning increase in anti-Ukraine rhetoric within highly engaged social media posts. It reveals a clear shift towards more anti-Ukraine content across languages, with Ukraine and its population increasingly demonised and criticised.
Qualitative analysis of the posts included in this research shows that the topic of the war in Ukraine has increasingly been used as a political tool to criticise governments and their support for Ukraine. Support for Ukraine, in these cases, was framed as damaging to the local population and economy. This framing has been exploited to foster resentment towards politicians supporting sanctions and aid for Ukraine. This trend was particularly evident in German and English posts, where most negative content primarily served to criticise domestic government policies.
A concerning finding is the penetration of disinformation and debunked claims among the top shared content, which continued to gain significant attention even when fact checks and warnings were included. This research showed that only a minority of the posts containing disinformation were fact-checked and addressed, while the majority remained unsanctioned despite their popularity.