Matviyenko essay

Liquid Categories for Augmented Revolutions

Dr. Svitlana Matviyenko, University of Western Ontario

download the essay

The project The Exceptional and The Everyday: 144 Hours in Kyiv (2014) by Lev Manovich and Software Studies Initiative team collected and analyzed the Instagram data (images, location, tags) shared during the outbreak of extreme violence in the midst of the protests in Kyiv, better known as “Maidan,” in the end of February 2014. [1] As Lisa Gitelman reminds us, “raw data is an oxymoron,” at least because it has “to be imagined as data to exist and function as such, and the imagination of data entails an interpretive base” (Gitelman, 2013: 1-3). The researchers produced a series of image clusters, graphs and diagrams that visualize the topological relation between visual and non-visual data of a dataset.

This essay reviews the findings of the project team by reading them alongside the reports and testimonies of the participants of the protest since the events on the ground are never disconnected from the user-generated stream of data—for better or worse. Online activity left material traces, generated and transmitted affects, messages, and noise; it enabled continuity but also produced disruptions of the communication flow and exchanges between protesters. The intensive use of social networks for coordination and information exchange makes a case for calling the revolution in Ukraine augmented. [2] As Nathan Jurgenson defines the notion, an “augmented revolution” is part of “a larger conceptual perspective that views our reality as the byproduct of the enmeshing of the on and offline” (Jurgenson, 2012: 83-91). My goal is not to test the accuracy of representation of events by a dataset (which would be a wrong approach!); but rather, to think of data as an acting entity that contributes to the complex composition of the protest.

Figure 1. Alevtina Kakhidze “The Barricade” (2014). Courtesy of Alevtina Kakhidze.

1. Binary bias

Between February 18 and 21, 2014 more than a hundred people of different ages, ethnicities and occupations were killed in the clashes with the police on the Maidan. [3] Soon after the tragic events, Esquire published a collection of Instagram images entitled “Before and After: Kiev on Instagram. 32 real photographs of how normal, everyday life changed in a matter of days.” [4] A brief introduction to the photographs by Esquire’s writer James Joiner suggested reading each pair of images as “a juxtaposition of what everyday people in Kiev were doing in the past few weeks, and how their world looks now” in order to demonstrate “how easy it is for everything we take for granted to be ripped away” and to give us “a unique perspective of just how quickly normal life—civilized, cultured lives just like ours—can be plunged into darkness.” From the start, the title introduced an incorrect premise: what was depicted on Instagram images did not occur “in a matter of days”: there were three months of struggle and resistance of protesters to the police in freezing temperatures that often turned in violent clashes, all of which sunk somewhere in the binary gap between the juxtaposed “representative” images taken from several selected Instagram accounts. The entire collection was a series of such paired shots that dramatized the contrast between “before” and “after” according to Instagram’s aesthetic standards – by means of its famous filters.

Figure 2. The juxtaposed Instagram images from Esquire.

Hardly unintentional, such familiar temporal binary of “before” and “after” implied a nostalgic look back at the peaceful days before the uprising. Such an interpretation was symptomatic of much of the mass media oriented towards consumers of fun and shocking news. And, it exposed a failure of reading the topology of social networks and their main product, big data.

Let us consider the meanings mobilized by Esquire’s publication, which I take as a typical case of what only looks like a favorable presentation. According to Joiner’s reading of the juxtaposed images, “normal life” is nowhere to be found in times of the unrest. The very notion of “normal life” is rather problematic because it varies tremendously from country to country, from one social group to another. Perhaps, burning tires and molotov cocktails were not representative of “normal life” for the protesters themselves, but neither was life “before” the uprising. The hundreds of thousands protesting on the streets of Kyiv were somehow not a good enough proof for this distant observer who equates “normality” with a glamorous selfie.

2. An ultra-One revolution

In order to imagine the producer of data, the user of mobile gadgets and social networks, let us take a look at the diversity of the protesters. Noteworthy, the composition of the Maidan was different in the day and night hours; it also varied from day to day in relation to the circumstances. Political scientist Olga Onuch distinguishes at least four stages of the three-month protest: I – November 21-29 (as a response to the government’s refusal to sign the free trade agreement with the EU); II – after November 30 (as a response to the violent clearing of the Maidan from protesters); III – after January 16 (as a response to the Yanukovych’s government’s the anti-protest law); and IV – beginning on February 18 (the most rapid escalation of violence, the massacre, after which Yanukovych fled the country) (Onuch, 2014). The social, demographic, and ideological composition of the Maidan during these stages of protest was noticeably changing.

For example, the role of the Ukrainian intelligentsia was more prominent throughout November and December, but it ceased in January and February. One of the reasons behind it is discussed by Anastasiya Ryabchuk, who shares her disappointment by leftist activists’ failure to add the slogans for free education, healthcare and independent trade unions as “European values” to Euromaidan agenda in December. [5] As a means to process such disappointments, Onuch suggests to distinguish between “mass-mobilization” and a wave (or waves) of “activist protest events” (Onuch, 2014a: 5) both of which are often referred by the umbrella-term “the Maidan.” However, such distinction clearly points to the unrealized impossibility, at least at that moment of Ukrainian history, behind leftist activists’ and liberals’ hope [6], attempt and soon-to-be failure to merge the two. This is only one of many cases that demonstrate the complexity of the Ukrainian protest and the diversity of its composition and, in many cases, an obvious contradiction between their agendas. Another example concerns the participation of workers in the Maidan. Here, I would like to draw readers’ attention to, at least, two accounts, one by Onuch and another by sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko.

In her essay, Onuch’s speaks about the goal and role in the protest of different age groups as seen by protesters themselves in the interviewers she and her colleagues conducted during the events of the Maidan (which give us an “inside perspective”):

"The youth and students called themselves the initiators of the protest, and said they sought abstract goals such as “freedom” and “a ‘real’ democracy.” They reported being frustrated with their parents’ generation for permitting the failure of democracy in Ukraine. The middle aged group saw themselves as the ‘most important’ protesters because they were ‘workers’ and ‘voters’ who were integral to wining elections and keeping the economy running. They explained that “unlike the students”, they could not be ignored because of this political and economic power. They were more focused on concrete claims, such as economic security, being able to travel to the EU, and after 30 November the illegitimacy of the Regime’s use of repression. The final group to which, the “grandparents and retirees,” saw themselves as the “guardians of the Maidan.” This group of protesters, explained that unlike others, “less to loose” by standing out in the Maidan, they did not need to go to work, they had no children to take care of at home, and thus, it was their responsibility to stand out on the Maidan." (Onuch, 2014: 17-18)

Ishchenko’s observation presents more of an “outside perspective” and focuses on the class composition of the protest:

"There were surveys done by sociologists in late January..., which showed that after the violence started on 19 January, the people on the Maidan were less affluent, less educated than in the early stages. They were less likely to come from Kiev, and more from small towns in central and western Ukraine … These regions are mainly poor, they have very serious problems with unemployment—they lost a lot of industrial jobs in electronics, machine engineering and so on after 1991. … People from these regions are obviously very much in favour of European integration, of being allowed to go to the West freely and work there. They also had clear social grievances against Yanukovych, and not much holding them back—that’s why they were prepared to join the Maidan self-defence forces and go up against the police. … it could be said that the Maidan was to some extent a movement of dispossessed workers." (Ishchenko, 2014)

Those protesters who identified themselves as “ordinary citizens” massively mobilized after “the claims shifted from seeking greater association with the EU, to the protection basic civic and human rights;” this is when as Onuch writes, “the participants in the protests came to represent a much broader cross-class, cross-cleavage coalition” (Onuch, 2014a: 17). The variety of social groups that collaborated on the square was sticking: the Maidan was organized and maintained in circumstantial solidarity by many self-organized defense groups that stood up to the police and the “titushkas” (or hired thugs). [7]

Figure 3. A shot from “The Citizen,” a video work by Babylon’13 published on YouTube on 25 January 2014 [8], that features the Maidan protesters assembling a silhouette of Ukraine, which consisted of wooden bricks designating protesters’ occupation and the amount of hours they dedicated to the Maidan daily: “photographer 24 hrs.,” “miner 24 hrs.,” “cashier 5 hrs.,” “sculptor 2 hrs.,” “postman 13 hrs.,” and so on.

Each group consisted of approximately a hundred members (and were called “The Hundreds”). They were either numbered by the order of assembling, for example, “The First Hundred,” “The Second Hundred” and so on, or self-identified in various ways, for example, ethnically or by occupation: “The Jewish Hundred” [9], “The Cyber Hundred,” and so on. These cross-class groups with different politics and beliefs constituted the anarchic, but highly sustainable body of protesters who positioned themselves against Yanukovych’s government, but at the same time, they did not support his political opposition. [10]

As the Maidan participant Oleksiy Radynski described it, "Autonomous and self-sufficient, most of the different protest mini-camps on Maidan square and the surrounding area became grassroots laboratories for ideas and practices of all stripes. In the Ukrainian House, a neomodernist palace that had previously housed the Museum of Lenin, a leftist student assembly tried to implement consensus decision-making and horizontal democracy among the frustrated, increasingly violent crowd. At the same time, the occupied city hall of Kyiv, several hundred meters away, became a breeding ground for the most bizarre kinds of far right ideologies. Between the two, in the encampment of tents that hardly protected their dwellers from the freezing temperatures outside, a hodgepodge of various resistance and partisan groups was boiling over." (Radynski, 2014)

Figure 4. The tent of “The Second Hundred” with its guard (on the foreground); several levels of the “inside barricades” on Hrushevsky Street are visible on the background. According to the author of the photograph, people without special uniforms or bulletproof jackets were not allowed behind the inside barricades, only the equipped protesters were allowed to pass towards the main barricades facing Berkut police. According to other protester’ account, men could still sneak in to the other side without a uniform, but women, indeed, were not allowed to pass. February 10, 2014. Courtesy of Kostiantyn Strilets.

The Maidan was like a huge messy, noisy and dirty train station, as someone described it on Facebook—everyone was there. If we agree with the theorists of ‘event,’ who describe it as “trans-being” with a dual status as “a rupture of the law of segmented multiplicities and as homologous to this law,” we could say, that the Maidan, too, was never “One” because of its “eventual multiplicity” and it can only be declared as “ultra-One” (Badiou, 2007: 93-101). This is crucial to remember when we argue about what the Maidan was and was not.

There was “The Female Hundred,” and almost half of the protesters were female [11] but the Maidan was also, reportedly, misogynistic, which drew criticism by feminists’ initiative ‘Half of the Maidan’ [12] alerting to the problems of gender and equity.[13] The Maidan was at the same time a realm of trust and a dangerous realm of potential provocations. And this is precisely because it was open to everyone. During its three months, the Maidan’s res publica made the citizens both extremely proud of themselves but also worried: a mirror image of Ukrainian society, it exposed its many strengths, but also its controversies, stereotypes, prejudices, and contradictions.[14] A possibility of democratic future came with recognition of the complexity of the situation and with the realization of the difficulties awaiting the country both in the nearest and more remote futures. Perhaps, the tasks for the future work for civic activists were better visible in the Maidan’s more peaceful times than in the extreme times of fight with police.

The coverage of the Maidan has often been focusing on the dynamics and violence of the fights and, thus, misrepresenting the fact that the resistance of Ukrainian protesters was supported and sustained by the enormous self-organized daily work of thousands of people [15], which remains unnoticed by the outside observers. The Maidan lived its own routine, but it was not “normality.” [16]

Figure 5. A crowd-sourced map created by Halas, a volunteer initiative to help the civil resistance, which connected those who needed help and those who could offer it, posted information about missing people, marked the locations of self-organized medical centers, open Wi-Fi spots, and the links to trustworthy reports, December 2013 (top). The “Open Door” sticker circulated by activists was used to mark the doors of offices, galleries, and apartments in Kyiv downtown where protesters could find free Wi-Fi, hot drinks and food. A crowd-sourced map published by the Information Agency Liga.Net that designated the locations of restaurants and cafes in Kyiv that offered free coffee and space for protesters to rest and warm themselves up, 12 December 2013. [17]

3. Exceptional routine

The Maidan had its own infrastructure in the form of the medical and food centers as well as a center for psychological help and the information and IT service tent where people could either call their families or charge mobile devices or use Wi Fi to post on or check social media. This infrastructure was carefully mapped by volunteers who distributed cartographic information sheets among the protesters and via social networks. Online communication was crucial. The Internet Association of Ukraine and several ISPs even sent an appeal to the dwellers of Kyiv downtown to remove the passwords from their routers in order to make the Internet available for protesters. [18]

Figure 6. Postcards from Maidan, an art initiative to communicate the message about the Maidan. Selected postcards based on the works (from top to bottom) by Oleksandr Burlaka, Yevgenia Belorusets, Lada Nakonechna, and Dan Perjovschi. From the project website: “Postcards project contains a series of cards based on works of contemporary artists. Artists that participated in the protests on Maidan create their works as a reflection on the events and a message to fellow citizens. These cards may serve as support and means to bring the spirit of protest to one’s relatives and friends in any part of Ukraine or the world.” [19] Courtesy of the artists.

There were multidisciplinary lectures by scholars in what was known as “The University of Maidan.” [20] The Ukrainian House hosted a library, where protesters could borrow books [21], and the Student Assembly that organized and coordinated many informational and educational activities. [22] There was an explosion of political art initiatives such as Страйк Плакат (Strike Poster) [23] and a number of curated exhibitions, featuring “the art of the revolution” [24] with The Art Barbican, an art space and one of the barricade fortifications, as one of the most known. [25]

Video 1. “Dignity,” a video work by Babylon’13 published on YouTube on 19 December 2013. [26] Courtesy of Babylon’13.

Babylon’13, a collective of approximately 40 filmmakers working in a documentary genre, assembled at the beginning of the unrest. The filmmakers fought the information war by sharing short 2-5 minute videos from the protest via their YouTube channel. [27] There were poetry readings and concerts by well-known Ukrainian music groups. There were intense and heated discussions, declaration of different political agendas, and announcements about various social causes. [28] In the peaceful time, many participants were engaged in a variety of artistic practices producing artifacts of real or sentimental value. They also underwent training to learn the techniques and methods of resistance to prepare themselves to fight off the attacks by police (see Video 1). Women actively participated in street resistance along with men and “The Female Hundred” held special lessons of self-defense for women at the Ukrainian House. [29]

Figure 7. The Facebook cover of the Eurolution project conceived when it became clear how much the Western media were impacted by Russian propaganda. The project was maintained around the clock by Ukrainian writers Sophia Andrukhovych and Andrij Bondar who coordinated the work of many friends and supporters in Ukraine and abroad on writing essays and reports about the events in Ukraine, translating them in many languages and disseminating them among journalists, political analysts, scholars, media, and readers around the world. The photo by Rostyslav Shpuk [30] used for the cover shows the Maidan protesters holding their mobile gadgets with the screens lit up.

The majority came to the Maidan to fight the corrupt government; others came to challenge themselves, still others came out of curiosity or despair. Some came to show off before friends and lovers. Many came anonymously, with faces hidden under balaclavas. Both the protesters and the observers were constantly documenting the protest and sharing the images and videos on social networks.

4. As seen on Instagram

Manovich’s project participants collected all geo-tagged Instagram images that were shared in the center of Kyiv around the Independence Square between February 17 and 22. Then they organized this set of 13,208 images in a form of a ‘storyboard’ with only one level of data, arranging them by time (see Figure 8). From a distance, the grid presents six easily distinguishable light-to-dark ‘waves’ corresponding to the six days and nights. The stripes are markers of user-activity and, thus, proof of the discontinuity of protest around the clock. As an image-sharing network, Instagram offers a different kind of view of user-activity by means of big-data visualizations than Facebook, VKontakte or Twitter, where sharing images is not a primary activity and is mixed with text posts and re-posts as well as link sharing.

One can tell that some night stripes are thicker than some day stripes and thinner than other night stripes. There were different factors impacting the networking activity of protesters. Despite that those days and nights when they had to fight off the attacks of Berkut police were hardly suitable for documentation as one risked losing one’s life to a sniper’s bullet, users kept posting. There were instances of partial to complete shutdown of mobile services in the areas occupied by protesters, in order to disrupt their communications and sharing of photo and video materials, or as a means of emotional manipulation in order to scare protesters (people were familiar with the government’s tactic to shut down the Internet right before the attacks of Berkut police). [31] In any event, a decrease or an increase of user activity seen on the visualization should be contextualized with taking these factors into account. Other important factors to consider would include the popularity of this social network among certain social groups active on the Maidan at a certain time and the dynamics of switching between several social networks when users had parallel accounts (i.e. how and why users preferred one social network to others).

Figure 8. 13,208 Instagram images from center of Kyiv arranged by upload date and time (February 17-22, 2014). Courtesy of Lev Manovich / Software Studies Initiative.

A closer look at particular sequences of images in the dataset reveals an extremely heterogeneous collage. In his project text, Manovich makes note of this variety: “The photos of clashes between protesters and the police, the fires, and political slogans appear next to photos showing things not related to the revolution events. The selfies, portraits, city views, parties, children.” In order to capture such differences, Manovich offers a pair of related categories, “the exceptional” and “the everyday.” He writes, “The exceptional co-exists with the everyday. While revolution is taking place, life is going on.” Produced by the users of the distributed network, “the exceptional” and “the everyday” images produced in different locations are tied together into the same time-clusters, often as short as one or two seconds. In order to disturb the unnecessary clear-cut division between his categories, Manovich suggests looking at them through the lens of personal, local and global significance: “Like many sets of categories,” he admits, “these also overlap. A revolution leading to a new government happening in your city can be ‘globally exceptional,’ ‘locally exceptional,’ and personally exceptional.” If so, “the exceptional” and “the everyday” do not simply dwell “side-by-side,” as Manovich puts it, but they are involved in mutually transformative relation: they transgress and mutate.

Figure 9. A part of the Instagram sequence from “The Exceptional & The Everyday: 144 Hours in Kyiv” project. Courtesy of Lev Manovich / Software Studies Initiative.

What could have been called “the exceptional” before the protest (for example, a digital representation of a mobilized collective action of thousands of people) became “everyday,” the necessary, and absolute condition for holding up against police forces. At the same time, the snapshots of banalities subvert the romanticized imaginary totality of revolution and reveal the existence of the islands of peace, rest or even boredom in the midst of an uprising. Perhaps, they can all to be called “the exceptional” or, at least, “unordinary.” In the context of the ongoing protest and within its “eventual multiplicity” of “trans-being,” the categories of “the exceptional” and “the everyday” become liquid.

5. Platforms of visibility

In Ukraine, protesters took the same risks as their comrades in other countries: their online activity endangered them due to the potential accessibility of both data (i.e., the content of communications, names, mail addresses) and metadata (i.e. phone numbers, the length and time of calls, the IP addresses of the computers, URLs of the websites, and IMEI numbers of the phones). Cases of political profiling when information on chosen activists was collected in order to target them afterwards were pretty common. Old and familiar techniques were now applied online. The army of bots and trolls (sometimes called “ititushkas,” a combination of “i” or “IT” and “titushkas” [32]) used to disseminate disinformation and to manipulate the users by manufacturing fear and hatred [33] was not a novelty either. It must be noted that social media trolling in Ukraine (often performed via accounts registered in Russia [34]) was not only massive and intense, but also rather strategic so that one cannot help but thinks of a mastermind behind its swarm intelligence. This activity certainly calls for further research.

Overall, Ukrainian users considered social networks as useful resources of organization and mobilization of grassroots initiatives, freedom of expression (especially in the context of censorship and manipulation of media by their owners), and dissemination of information. According to some surveys, the majority of users (sometimes, up to 83% of respondents) recognized Facebook as a most popular social network for such purposes. [35] There have been rare voices alerting users to the decentralized forms of control conducted via much more subtle forms of micro-management towards certain goals or mere surveillance. [36] In our email interview, software specialist Ruslan Shevchenko, one of the coordinators of the Maidan’s IT-tent, explained that it was not due to the protesters’ recklessness, but because “the participation in the Maidan was a public position,” “all posts on Facebook were public.” The protesters were not unaware of the risks of exposure: for example, some of the “most visible” activists, the leaders of the protest groups (i.e. Automaidan) had to send their families abroad as themselves continued living on Maidan. [37]

The viral effects of Russian propaganda caused a psychological and, even more so, an epistemological trauma for many in Ukraine as they witnessed the East of the country (as well as Russian and Western audiences) trusting the reports about the situation in Ukraine by Russia Today, Life News, RIA Novosti along with major governmentally controlled or semi-controlled TV channels despite their blunt falsifications. The topics were incomparable to anything we had seen before: children crucified by Ukrainian soldiers [38], concentration camps for Russians in Ukraine [39], or “more sophisticated” creations such as the “Guidelines for Genocide” allegedly produced by the RAND Corporation’s as a “plan” for Eastern Ukraine that “suggested a number of inhumane, draconian measures the government of Ukraine should undertake against its people.” [40] In his essay “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” Peter Pomerantsev observes:

"There is one great difference between Soviet propaganda and the latest Russian variety. For the Soviets, the idea of truth was important—even when they were lying. Soviet propaganda went to great lengths to ‘prove’ that the Kremlin’s theories or bits of disinformation were fact … In today’s Russia, by contrast, the idea of truth is irrelevant. On Russian ‘news’ broadcasts, the borders between fact and fiction have become utterly blurred." [41]

It is important to point out that even when the original source of such reports was a TV channel [42; 43], the affect of the reports was significantly amplified by sharing them along with user comments on social media. Besides, the social media discourse is not disconnected from the discourses of social networks off-line; affect has been transmitted across platforms and carriers, which includes people as human platforms.

Unfortunately, as an outcome of the explosion of anti-Maidan (and often anti-Ukrainian) propaganda on social networks, many pro-Maidan users and groups responded with similar doings. As hate speech was thrown both ways, both sides were genuinely traumatized by it; the rupture between the sides was quickly growing. [44] At the same time, the division between the Maidan- and Russia-oriented groups was not as clear as a line on the map, nor did it happen suddenly: it was a result of many more and less subtle policies and events of the past, which allowed Russian propaganda win a large audience among Ukrainian media consumers and users. [45]

But Facebook, too, gained a lot from this situation. The Ukrainian segment of Facebook grew significantly in the days of the protest and even after. This is not news that social media benefit immensely from the times of unrest and not only because they are good information platforms, but mostly due to the affects and emotions generated during the difficult times by the sense of solidarity and support as well as by trolling and hate speech: in both cases, the common result is the increase of networking activity of all parties involved.

It explains why Facebook (and surely, other social media companies) studies its own techniques of production and transmission of affects so carefully. “Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness,” as stated by the authors of a scandalous emotion-altering project that targeted more than 600,000 users without their awareness. [46] Well, in the age of liquid surveillance, “we are all ‘lab rats’ online,” as Mark Andrejevic once put it. [47] One day a piece of fake news will reach a user not in a form of a TV broadcast for general audience, but a targeted message, tailored according to this individual’s fears, desires, stereotypes, prejudices, and beliefs. A message that comes to a user as a sort of “intuitive knowledge” so close to one’s heart that there won’t be a necessary distance to mobilize critical thinking when it “occurs” as a “realization” or “revelation.” This logic is similar to that of the tactic that has been used by the USA’s National Security Agency unit called Tailored Access Operations in the cyber war against the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and other countries since 2007 (Harris, 2014: 20-21). Imagine one day such messages would be designed just like Google’s personalized ads based on algorithmically processed users’ data. When “the boundaries between ‘citizen’ and ‘enemy’ [are] both flexible and precarious,” [48] ‘one day’ is now.

In Ukraine, the topics of the political economy of software and hardware, the possible forms of network disobedience for disrupting surveillance and the like, at least, to my knowledge, have not been yet addressed neither academically nor publically. For these and other reasons, the use and abuse of metadata during the protests remain under-investigated and the importance of such investigation is still largely overlooked. At the same time, there were enough of incidents that might help us foresee the potential direction for inquires as well as education and training initiatives. Some of these instances are outside of the six-day timeframe Manovich’s lab has studied, but it’s important to bring them up here to better contextualise the project and our discussion.

One month prior to the February events, on January 16, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions together with the Communist Party of Ukraine [49] passed the laws criminalizing public protest along with a variety of activities associated with it (such as: the wearing helmets or uniforms, driving in columns of more than five cars; performing the activity of an information agency without state registration and so on). At the same time, the laws permitted the government to shutdown Internet access and granted immunity to police officers who used force against protesters in the previous months of the unrest. [50] In response, on January 19, 200,000 people came out to demonstrate in central Kyiv against the “draconian” anti-democratic laws.

Video 2. “In Hell,” a video work by Babylon’13 published on YouTube on 25 January 2014. [51] Courtesy of Babylon’13.

As thousands of people moved along Hrushevsky Street they ran into police barricades that blocked the street with cars and minivans. Soon the protest turned into violent riot. Clashes with police continued in that part of the city until January 22 and led to a series of deaths. It was then that protesters (and reportedly, other users with their phones’ IMEI located within the territory of the unrest) received the scandalous blunt text message that Brian Merchant of Vice famously described as “maybe the most Orwellian text message a government’s ever sent”: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” [52] As Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in the interview to Heather Murphy, “This is not the first message that the government has sent out massively over text. This would be the most targeted messaging I’ve ever encountered.” [53]

After the events Ukrainska Pravda reported that the three major cellphone companies of Ukraine, Kyivstar, Life and MTS, denied the accusations that they had provided location data to the government or had sent the text messages. [54] The reason why such suspicion was raised in the first place was not because there was a forced collaboration with government agencies [55] similar to what we know of in the case of USA or Russia, but for some more obvious (or so it seemed) reasons such as the corporate interests and potential political games of the owners. [56] Since nobody took the responsibility, it remains unclear who was behind the Orwellian message: one of the companies, the Security Service of Ukraine or, as suggested by Kyivstar, “it was the work of a ‘pirate’ cellphone tower set up in the area,” [57] and the message was sent by “using rogue base stations that mimicked those belonging to the carriers.” [58] Such visibility was unsettling and yet people remained on barricades despite the surveillance and despite the anti-protest laws, which put nearly everyone at the risk of arrest or abduction. Against the former, they typically protected themselves by switching different SIM-cards; [59] against the latter, they fought on the Maidan.

Figure 10. Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze’s mapping of the violent events of February 18, 2014 for the Western friends. Courtesy of Alevtina Kakhidze.

In the winter of 2014 there were multiple cases of abduction by unidentified men, acting like the Soviet KGB and kidnapping activists from the public places, such as the hospitals where the wounded were taken from the Maidan. [60] Whether or not these cases were directly connected with the targeting and tracing of phones’ IMEI numbers remains unclear but the overall precision of such operations certainly allows for such speculations. In my interviews with protesters, I was not able to find any evidence of their maintaining online anonymity. Occasionally, users shared information and tips about safe texting apps and other similar techniques and tools. [61; 62]

Although data analysis always presents data as “subject to us,” “now that every click, every move has the potential to count for something, for someone somewhere somehow,” as Gitelman writes, “we are subject to data” (Gitelman, 2013: 2). The “Orwellian message” sent to the Maidan protesters from an unidentified location transformed protesting individuals into “data subjects,” viciously and bluntly, simply by telling them who they are in the eyes of Power: “participants in a mass disturbance,” criminals. We should be very concerned about such forms of subjectivization, as Zygmunt Bauman et al. argue in “After Snowden: Rethinking the Impact of Surveillance”:

"The “data subject” is a conditional form of existence whose rights are dependent upon its behavior within digital networks. The observation and analysis of specific behaviors make it possible to draw generic profiles and to identify threats and targets. Hence, the degree of separation between the subject and an identified target triggers specific surveillance techniques and defines the rights to which the “data subject” is entitled. Under the digitized reason of state regime, individual rights are conditioned by a specific series of relationships and by the particular positions that the subject occupies within these boundless networks. “Data subjects” are constituted and accessed with regards to their particular position. Their rights depend upon how distant—or not—they are from given targets." (Bauman et al., 2014: 129)

6. Friends qua enemies qua friends

The authors of “After Snowden” write: “National security is no longer national in its acquisition, or even analysis, of data and allies’ different national security imperatives may clash, causing trust to disappear” (Bauman et al., 2014: 125). As Snowden’s leak revealed, Facebook, along with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Apple and other companies, was required “to facilitate direct access to customer data manages by the companies and compelled to remain silent about these arrangements under penalty of law” (Deibert, 2013: xi-xii). In response, Austrian data privacy activist Max Schrems initiated the class action against Facebook, which was supported by 60,000 users. He stated: “For this lawsuit we have chosen basic or obvious violations of the law: the privacy policy, participation in the PRISM program, Facebook’s graph search, apps on Facebook, tracking on other web pages (e.g. via the ‘like buttons’), ‘big data’ systems that spy on users or the non-compliance with access requests.” [63]

There was a shared understanding among protesters of what could or could not be said on social networks, what texting services were more prone to hacking, and what were the risks of keeping the phones on. At the same time, in 2014, Ukraine was enthusiastically exploring a new means for social organization via networks for the first time and living through the new opportunities and new dangers. During the Orange Revolution of 2004 [64], only 15% of Ukraine’s population had access to the Internet, by 2014, the number of the Internet users has grown to one-half of the country with 77% of younger users between 18 and 29 connected (Kulyk, 2014). For the protesters connected via social media, Facebook, Twitter, and VKontakte remained the major information engines and venues where they posted updates, reported on the current situation, shared their reflections and analysis of events, discussed future actions—openly, on public ‘walls,’ or via closed Facebook groups. In other words, the users were producing what other media did not provide them; they were working, for the most part, against other media, foreign and domestic. [65] Due to its specific format, Instagram was not suited for information war battles and was not targeted by trolls as much as Facebook, VKontakte and Twitter. As Manovich explains, it is precisely the relatively small volume of Instagram images and the fact that they were not dominated by a few power users that makes Instagram such a useful resource.

According to Pavel Durov, founder and former-chief executive officer of VKontakte, on December 13, he was ordered by the Federal Security Service of Russia “to turn over details on members of 39 [Ukrainian pro-Maidan] protest groups with VKontakte pages,” which he refused. In April 2014, after the ‘hostile takeover’ of his company by Russia’s richest man and Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov [66], reporter Carol Matlack pointed out: “The timing of the demand in mid-December makes clear that Moscow was watching the Ukraine protests closely, long before it became clear that the Yanukovych regime would fall.” [67]

Figure 11. Note the changes of the Ukrainian user segment of VKontakte and Facebook on the ranking list by the Ukrainian Internet Association [68] (orange = daily average; grey = overall coverage):
November 2013: VKontakte (#2) 53/73; Facebook (#10) 8/31; Twitter is not on the list of first 20 sites.
February 2014: VKontakte (#2) 51/68; Facebook (#9) 9/30; Twitter (#19) 5/21.
October 2014: VKontakte (#2) 45/60; Facebook (#8) 11/28; Twitter (#17) 5/17.

Much can be said about the failures Facebook’s privacy policy, collection and monetization of user data [69], and cooperation with the NSA, but what else can be expected of a publically traded company that cares only about its shareholders? However, Ukrainian users complained about Facebook for different reasons: during the protest, the pages of activists were constantly blocked by Facebook administration, sometimes as often as every week, while reports by these activists of threats and offences were not acted upon. In September 2014, a group of Ukrainian users addressed Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter, asking him to intervene in the situation about the lack of response to users complains which, they suggested, were caused by the fact that “the Ukrainian segment of FB is administered by a person with Russian citizenship.” They wrote: “Mark, we are all aware and highly respectful of your humanitarian position and consistence with which it is being upheld. In view of this, we are calling for your immediate intervention into this situation, as the owner of the company whose reputation is being undermined by the actions of its employee.” [70]

In November 2014, Thomas Myrup Kristensen, Director of Policy for Facebook across the Nordics, Central and Eastern Europe including the Ukraine and Russia, addressed Ukrainian users of a new Facebook community “ЗА! Українське представництво Facebook” (Yes! For the Ukrainian Representation on Facebook). [71] In his Facebook post, he reported about his visit to Ukraine in the beginning of October 2014 where he met with Yuri Artemenko, then-Head of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine. He commented regarding the wrong doings of an administrator “with Russian citizenship”: “Facebook doesn’t have offices in either Russia or Ukraine. Facebook operates a global service not a country specific one and our international headquarters is in Dublin, Ireland. Staff come from many different countries and it is this office that provides impartial support for people using Facebook in Ukraine.” [72] Artemenko, too, posted a report after his conversation with Kristensen where the Director of Policy reassured him that Facebook is very careful in selecting stuff responsible for dealing with users’ complains since Facebook is neutral when it comes to national or other conflicts. However, Kristensen stated, while a human performs this task, there is always the issue of “human factor.” [73]

Before the Maidan, the Ukrainian segment of VKontakte was times larger than that of Facebook. [74] There are reasons to believe that many users of VKontakte moved to Facebook during 2014, however, this remains unconfirmed until the detailed analysis of statistics is available. The dark irony of being locked between two empires of surveillance, two versions of imperialism, two rivals in the deadly cold war game played at the cost and on the territories of other nations—is clearly displayed here.

7. Tags for the world, for the void

The Instagram images analyzed by Manovich’s team were tagged with 5,845 unique tags. These tags, as Elizabeth Losh observes, simultaneously marked the areas of risk and confirmed users’ presence at the protest. Tags are the choice of a different visibility aimed at a world audience, an attempt to reach as many people as possible. Some images were tagged by a sequence of tags such #maidan, #euromaidan, #євромайдан, #евромайдан, #майдан, or #kyiv, #київ, #kiev, listing all possible key worlds, often the versions of one world in different languages, that could be used in searches by the global audiences, as Manovich also notes. That’s why we can assume that drawing attention to one’s own presence at the protest was not of the primary importance; rather, the individual protesters acted on behalf of the multiple participants of resistance by sending the message about the violence on the Maidan.

Figure 12. Visualization showing selected Instagram tags. The intensity of color/size indicates that the two tags were used frequently together. Courtesy of Lev Manovich / Software Studies Initiative.>

As seen on Figure 12, apart from the tags typical for the Instagram network (#like4like, #followme, #instagood and so on), the most frequent combinations of tags used with the images of Kyiv streets and squares were the following:

Ukraine - Kiev
украина - киев
украина - ukraine

euromaidan - kiev
euromaidan - euromaydan
euromaidan - евромайдан
евромайдан - революция

революция - киев
revolution - maidan
revolution - революция
revolution – kyiv [75]

Figure 13 is an alternative visualizations which shows which tags were frequently used together. (Note that because all relations are projected in a 2D dimensional space, this figure maybe not as precise as the matrix in Figure 12.)

Figure 13. MDS plot of selected Instagram tags. The spatial closeness indicates that the two tags were used frequently together. Courtesy of Lev Manovich / Software Studies Initiative.

The pairs of tags consisting of the words identifying location and protest (referred by different tag-words #revolution, #euromaidan, #maidan,” or #евромайдан) were the most frequent. At the same time, such combinations as #евромайдан and #майдан or #євромайдан and #майдан, which differ only by the prefix- “euro,” are quite rare. [76] Table 1 quantifies these relations.

Table 1. Probabilities of selected tag combinations as used in 13,208 Instagram images shared February 17-22, 2014 in Kyiv. The combinations in the first column occurred relatively frequently, while the combinations in the second and third column occurred very infrequently. Courtesy of Lev Manovich / Software Studies Initiative.

There are several ways to explain the relation between the tags in these combinations, but one needs a larger context. Initially, when the protest began on the night of 21 November 2013 as first 2,000 people came out on the main square demanding closer European integration, the protest was often referred as “Euromaidan.” But even within the first week of the protest in December, Ukrainian journalist and co-founder of Hromadske TV (Public TV) Nataliya Gumenyuk expressed the ambiguity of her attitude towards this hashtag word, which I’d like to quote at length:

"I don’t like using the ‘Ode to Joy,’ the phrase ‘European integration’ or the hashtag #euromaidan, despite the fact that I’ve already used the latter myself several hundred times … For us at #euromaidan, the word ‘Euro’ doesn’t mean the European Commission, or cabinet meetings in Brussels, or the currency, or Baroness Ashton, or the bureaucrats … Perhaps it is logical to assume that it is not the European Union that the Ukrainian people support, but rather European values (including material values). However, I don’t believe that anything like specifically ‘European values’ exist, just as there is no such thing as ‘European’ human rights. … Moreover, if you look not at the letter of #euromaidan but rather at its spirit, the euro itself is secondary, that’s why it is so hard to find appropriate responses to the protests. After all, it’s not a question of making a ‘geopolitical choice’ in a strictly literal sense – neither supporting the EU nor expressing anti-Russian sentiments – but rather the universal right of citizens to take to the streets when their opinions are brazenly disregarded, even though, supposedly, ‘the people are the source of power.’ Ukrainians must do the same as the citizens of Turkey, Brazil, Egypt and the USA did, speaking of values, which are common to all people … This has nothing to do with Euro-integration. I still dislike the official flag of the EU, as opposed to, say, a Guy Fawkes mask; yet it seems that Ukrainians are bringing some humanity to #euromaidan." [77]

In the following days of December 2013, the protests grew with 50,000 to 200,000 people during the daytime. However, only several thousand stayed on the Maidan around the clock to occupy the square at night and secure their place of public speech from the police. Then early in the morning of November 30, the police attacked the protesters, most of whom were students. [78] The brutality of the police was captured on video. Viewers were shocked by the footage that showed the young, the elderly, and journalists chased through the streets of Kyiv and severely beaten. There were pictures of the square in the center of Kyiv covered with blood. After that, the older generation, often the parents of attacked students, joined the protest. The protest grew and so did the violence. It was around this time that the term “Maidan” came to use and often it replaced “Euromaidan” to reflect the change in the goal of protesters. The uprising was no longer only “for” European integration (which was hoped to provide the means to control the appetites of the corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovych). Starting in the beginning of December, people were protesting “against” the corrupt and anti-democratic government with the goal of removing it. This shift in goal was reflected in the shift in name: now it was the “Maidan.”

For some network users, this change was crucial, and they substituted the tag #euromaidan with #maidan in their posts. For others, #euromaidan did not lose its significance as the larger goal toward which to move after the corrupt government had been removed. The name stood, and here I agree with Slavoj Žižek, for “freedom-in-equality, the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is today more and more betrayed by the European institutions.” [79] The choice of one of the two tags in the post could be seen as a declaration of the user’s position on these matters. For example, on Instagram, users preferred keeping “euro-“: either referring to the larger purpose of the uprising or for the purposes of consistency, using the recognizable word that became known from the early days of the protest. The choice of both tags could be seen as a SOS message to the broad world audience which was searching either for “euromaidan” or “maidan” (however, as Table 1 shows, it was not the case, at least on Instagram, as the combinations euromaidan/maidan very used quite infrequently).

What news could be of more importance than the information about a major protest, a revolution, or an invasion? At the time when investigative journalism is in decay, the viral news generated across different social networks became the driving force behind news making, regardless of its relevance, importance, or urgency. As Patricia Clough and Jasbir Puar described “the viral,” it is “replication without reproduction, without fidelity, without durability. It is this generative differentiation that is repeated” (Clough and Puar, 2012). Despite its temporary nature, the viral does its job. As an example, consider a scandalous episode of August 2013, when the Ghouta chemical attack that happened during the Syrian Civil War went unnoticed by media due to, as many claimed, the viral news about Miley Cyrus’ playful VMA performance : “The day after the VMAs, Miley Cyrus stories accounted for 12 percent of total U.S. page views, while Syria stories accounted for 1 percent.” [80]

The first outbreak of violence in November of 2013 taught Ukrainians a similar lesson: it is nearly impossible to draw the world media’s attention to the abuse of human rights and violence during the Thanksgiving Holidays. It took nearly a week of shouting into the void before first reports appeared in the media. Only Russia Today cared about Ukraine, in its own way. Between the disinformation campaign and the initial silence of Western media (before they engaged in the information war with Russia for their own reasons) [81], Ukrainian protesters were bereft of a media-image in which they could recognize themselves. [82] In a sense, the lack of such media image was one of the reasons that facilitated the growing interest in such testimonies of revolutions as documentary films, footage and resources on other “color revolutions.”

Video 3. “The Forbidden Movie,” a video published on 28 January 2014 is available through Babylon’13 YouTube channel. [83] Courtesy of Babylon’13.

The list of the Student Assembly’s screening series at the Ukrainian House is rather telling: January 30 - Rick Rowley, The Fourth World War (2003); February 7 - Pablo Larraín, No (2012); February 8 - Krzysztof Łukaszewicz, Viva Belarus! (2012) February 17 - Lordan Zafranović, Occupation in 26 Pictures (1978). Jehane Noujaim’s The Square (2013) was often mentioned on social networks and recommended for viewing. Symbolically, The Square was banned in Ukraine at the time of the protest, and yet, the protesters organized a public screening of the film right on the square among the barricades. “The Forbidden Movie,” a video shot on January 18 by Babylon’13, documents the illegal street screening [84] and shows that despite all differences between the events in Egypt and Ukraine, the protesters easily related themselves to the revolutionaries from the other country.

The European reaction to the events in Ukraine throughout the entire time of the unrest was extremely disappointing for a variety of reasons: Germany responded with a pro-Putin media campaign and France continued selling the Mistral warships to Russia. Perhaps, Žižek was correct, once again, in saying that “Europe itself has to learn to incorporate the dream that motivated the Maidan protesters.” [85] It could have been that the “euro-“ in “euromaidan” was a bit too painful of a reminder of European indifference and lack of solidarity, and yet, “euromaidan” never disappeared from the list of self-identificatory tags on social networks; in fact, during the violent days of February 2014, it prevailed. But “maidan” was the core of it—symbolically, spiritually, linguistically and in praxis. By way of its shared root [86], it is ubiquitously connected to the multiple threads of meaning generated globally on the streets and squares as the off-line sites of civil protests—AFK F2F IRL. [87]

In conclusion

Data analysis is often expected to provide an answer when a remote observer needs to process quickly what happened there, in one of the planet’s hidden pockets, that the world has suddenly found itself so unbearably close to a major global catastrophe. Data analysis looks like an answer due to our tendency to fetishize the instruments of measure and proof as well as to trust familiar theories and categories, which often demonstrate themselves quite useless and unable to capture such complex event as a revolution with every single part of it bigger than its whole.

The assemblages of Instagram photos produced by the researchers of the Software Studies Initiative offer us a less friendly, if not ‘inhuman,’ look at our virtual personae than what we used to see on our personal web pages. When each of us is the “data subject,” these visualizations reveal an unfamiliar dimension of our digital profiles open for scrutiny to the virtual machinic gaze and the algorithmic logic. It is an alienating, but also, rather sobering experience to confront our digital “selves” from this point of view. A user faces the topology of network’s spacetime that threatens the imaginary consistency of our “selves,” comprehension of our daily routes and of our habitat that we think we know. Hopefully, such encounter can also reveal blind spots of the machinic gaze and challenge the categorical apparatuses employed for evaluation of data, which now materializes our new relations to time, space and community. This is why it is important, I think, to formulate the question about the relations (not correlations!) that evolve or fade between the entities of the augmented world. Formulating this question is worth our effort in peaceful days; it is extremely important in the days of unrest.


I am very grateful to Nick Dyer-Witheford, Lev Manovich, Oleksiy Radynski, and Virlana Tkacz for reading this essay and providing feedback and editorial suggestions. I thank Yuri Gruzinov for sharing what he saw while filming the Maidan, the seizure of Crimea, and the war in Eastern Ukraine; I learned a lot from the conversations with Volodymyr Kulyk. I am grateful to Yevgenia Belorusets, Oleksandr Burlaka, Alevtina Kakhidze, Lada Nakonechna, Dan Perjovschi and Kostiantyn Strilets for giving me permissions to use their art works and photographs. I thank to the filmmakers of Babylon’13 whose videos add so much to this essay.


[1] In this essay, I use the Ukrainian spelling, Kyiv, unless I quote the sources that give it in the Russian transliteration, Kiev.

[2] I prefer this notion to “Facebook/Twitter revolution” as it does not prioritize any non- or human actor . [3] See the video that surfaced in December 2014, which is thus far, the longest documentation of the tragic events on Hrushevsky Street in Kyiv:


[5] Ryabchuk writes: “[Leftist activists were] declared as ‘provoking’ Euromaidan participants both directly from the stage and from Euromaidan security, and by journalists. They were accused of ‘breaking up the unity of the protest’ and coming with slogans that were ‘too serious’ and likely to be misunderstood by the crowd” (132).

[6] See several accounts referenced by Ryabchuk: Botanova, Kateryna. “Points of Maidan bifurcation,” Korydor, December 3, 2013; Papash, Olga. “’Glory to the heroes’ or ‘death to enemies’,” Korydor, December 7, 2013.

[7] See a Wikipedia entry: The official statement was that the thugs were “mostly people without steady moral principles and very poor people who desperately need some money,” who were “not bandits nor prisoners nor criminals.” However, there were other reports that contradicted the official statement. The problem of titushkas–before, during, and even after the Maidan–is determined by multiple causes and cannot be boiled down to the lack of moral principles only; the practices of rewarding and forcing, cultivating and exploiting such behavior seems to me as an equally big problem, especially given that some of those who are guilty of it are still in the government.

[8] The video is available here:

[9] On this topic, see Marci Shore’s essay about ‘the Maidan story’ of Natan Khazin, a Ukrainian Jew from Odessa, an ordained rabbi, who emigrated to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces, then returned to Ukraine: “Rescuing the Yiddish Ukraine,” The New York Review of Books, 5 June 2014.

[10] For the documentation of activities, see the Facebook page of the Center for Peaceful Organization community, created on 2 December 2013.

[11] According to Onuch’s and Tamara Martsenyuk’s analysis of the Maidan’s gender composition between November 2013 and January 10, 2014, women represented 41 present of the protest participants. See their article “Mothers and Daughters of the Maidan: Gender, repertoires of violence, and the division of labour in Ukrainian protests,” 113. The authors also mention other surveys conducted by other analytic centers and independent researchers that include the numbers for the gender composition of the Maidan participants in January and February. For example, they note: “KIIS’s [the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology] findings also showed that women constituted 44 percent of protest participants in the early days of the protests, and that the number of women (who lived in the protest square) was only 12 percent in February” (113).

[12] See the Facebook page of the group “Half of the Maidan: Women’s Voice of Protest.”

[13] Also see the aforementioned essay by Onuch and Martsenyuk on this subject.

[14] In his essay “Maidan and Beyond, Part I,” Oleksiy Radynski discusses this subject in details. Also, see Ekaterina Sergatskova “Dragon’s Dreams”(Мечты Дракона).

[15] See the report by Ekaterina Sergatskova from 6 December 2013 that already lists a variety of websites and initiatives to coordinate and sustain ‘the everyday’ of the protest:

[16] Because I quoted Badiou in the previous paragraphs, I should note that in this moment, I am not referring to his understanding of “normal” as he defines the concept in Being and Event, when he writes, “I will call normal a term which is both presented and represented. I will call excrescence a term which is represented but not presented. Finally, I will term singular a term which is presented but not represented” (99). Although I would be delighted to see (or undertake) a reading of the event of the Maidan drawn on Badiou’s distinctions.


[18] For more information, see the updates by AIN.UA from December 2013.

[19] For other works and the stories of making these works, see the project website:

[20] The list of lectures given on the first day of the University of Maidan and their video documentation is available here: The rest of them can be found on the same website.

[21] See Babylon’13’s video work “Honor Bright,” published on YouTube on 7 February 2014, that documents the process of using the Maidan library.

[22] The Student Assembly’s Facebook page.

[23] Straikplakat’s Facebook page.

[24] See Ukrainian art critic Olha Balashova’s reports on art projects either inspired by the revolution or created directly on the main square: Ольга Балашова, “Artists and Revolution. Part 1” (Художники и революция. Часть 1) and “Artists and Revolution. Part 2” (Художники и революция. Часть 2).

[25] See the photos of The Art Barbican here:

[26] The video is available here:

[27] See Babylon’13’s YouTube channel.

[28] In the beginning of February 2014, weeks before the end of the protest, there was an interesting discussion about the grassroots Maidan initiatives where the participants speculated about the lessons they learned and the possible future “after the Maidan”:

[29] See the documentation:

[30] See the full photograph:

[31] Similarly to Software Studies Initiative’s detection of the spikes in image-sharing activity by the users of Instagram around Maidan area, NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation Lab reported the rapid increase in posts on Twitter, which they identified as marking the extreme escalation of violence. See Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger, “Tweeting the Revolution: Social Media Use and the #Euromaidan Protests,”The Huffington Post, 21 February 2014.

[32] See Olha Minchenko’s “Айтітушки: нове слово сучасної української мови” (Ititushkas, a new word in Ukrainian), Watcher for 26 November 2013.

[33] The viral trolling started from the beginning of the protests in Kyiv and continued throughout the entire time of the uprising and after during the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s further intrusion into the territory of Eastern Ukraine. One typical example (from May 2014) is the fake account of a nonexistent doctor Igor Rozovskiy from Odessa asking for help against offenses by the “pro ukrainian nazi radicals” against the Jewish population. This fake became viral: not only was it shared over 2,000 times within only 15 hours on Facebook, it was also picked up by such major newspapers as The Guardian. See the response to The Guardian’s publication by Stop Fake, the initiative launched by alumni and students of Mohyla School of Journalism and of the Digital Future of Journalism professional program for journalists and editors (Kyiv) to “refute distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered in the media” (link). In his blog post for Ukrainska Pravda, Maksym Savanevsky, a founder of Watcher and coordinator for the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, demonstrated how the profile of Igor Rozovskiy was manufactured by simple collaging of the unrelated pieces of information from various online sources.

[34] See Savanevsky’s comment on trolling via Russian accounts:

[35] See the analysis by Kyrylo Galushko and Natalia Zorba “Ukrainian Facebook-Revolution? Social Networks Against a Background of Euromaidan Social research (November – December 2013).”

[36] To mention just a few among a variety of sources, see: Christian Fuchs, Social Media: A Critical Introduction (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2014); Mark Andrejevic, iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Interactive Era (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2007).

[37] Ruslan Shevchenko, coordinator of the IT-tent, 12/25/2014, email, “Interview.”

[38] Watch the staged story broadcasted by Russian main TV channel, ONE:

[39] See Stop Fake investigation of the fake:

[40] See more examples:


[42] According to Onuch’s study, the importance of television as an information source seemed rather high in the winter of 2014. She questioned the significance of social networks (at least, in December 2013): “when participants were asked specifically how they found out when and where to go to participate in the protests, most participants agreed that seeing protests on television was instrumental (48.9 percent), while 42 percent were sent a text message by a family member or friend,” and 40 percent went to the Maidan after they had read Facebook posts by friends or family members who intended to join the protest. Onuch’s multiple interviews with protesters in December of 2013 revealed that the youth were not the driving force of the Maidan in December: “The average age of the Ukrainian protester in Kyiv is closer to 36, with approximately 24 percent of participants older than 55. About 8 percent are between 65 and 75, thus making up a surprising, interesting and under discussed group.” (See more here.) Although I do think these findings are important, I also question the respondents’ ability to clearly identify the sources of information when a message so easily travels across platforms and when it is being transformed or affected in the course of such transition.

[43] It should be noted that although Ukrainian TV channels fully controlled by the oligarchs were, at first, presenting protests in the negative light, very soon, most of the channels became rather sympathetic to the protesters. According to Ishchenko, such shift could have been orchestrated by the oligarchs: “In some conspiracy theories, the shift was the work of Serhiy Lyovochkin, the head of the presidential administration. He is seen as connected to the metals oligarch Dmytro Firtash, one of the few people from the national bourgeoisie who might actually be interested in European integration—the idea being that Lyovochkin ordered the attack with a view to escalating events.”

[44] It would be more correct to say that there were more than two sides in these exchanges, and I am planning to develop this point elsewhere.

[45] For an example of one of the reasons why a regular media consumer would trust Russian media product (even propaganda), I recommend a study of the routines and political economy of Ukrainian media (predominately, television) conducted by Volodymyr Kulyk. It reveals, among other things, that the content of Ukrainian television (especially, entertainment, i.e., TV shows) has also been tailored for Russian consumers, the audience on which attention Ukrainian media largely depend for economic reasons. The media product, according to Kulyk, is strongly oriented towards Russian audiences—ideologically (i.e., Russians are depicted as smart; Ukrainians as silly etc.), linguistically (in Russian), thematically (Russian reality and history rather than Ukrainian) and so on. For a more detailed discussion, I refer my readers to a recording of the lecture by Kulyk, “Ukrainian Media and Information War,” given at Western University on June 3, 2014.

[46] The research was published in June 2014, it is available here:

[47] See Andrejevic’s interview “We Are All ‘Lab Rats’ Online,” PBS, February 18, 2014.

[48] See: Ji-Young Um, “Citizen and Terrorist, Citizen as Terrorist: Military, Citizenship, and Race in the Age of War on Terror,” Postmodern Culture 22.3 (2012).

[49] See the votes here:

[50] For more information see The members of civil movement Chesno created an info graphic visualization for dissemination among general public.

[51] The video is available here:




[55] The cooperation of mobile companies with the government was not, however, a mere suspicion: as Andrew Kramer reported, “In a ruling made public on Wednesday [January 29], a city court ordered Kyivstar to disclose to the police which cellphones were turned on during an antigovernment protest outside the courthouse on Jan. 10.” See: Andrew Kramer, “Russia Defers Aid to Ukraine, and Unrest Persists,” The New York Times, 29 January, 2014.

[56] Kyivstar was believed to have ties with the family of Ukraine’s former President Leonid Kuchma. Life is half owned (45%) by Astelit Mobile Communications, a subsidiary of SCM Holdings that belongs to Donetsk businessman Rinat Akhmetov, a former member of the Ukrainian Parliament for the Party of Regions and the current business partner of a number of the party members. The third company, MTS, is fully owned by Russia’s Mobile TeleSystems.

[57] See Andrew Kramer, “Russia Defers Aid to Ukraine, and Unrest Persists.”

[58] See the report about “the Orwellian message” in ArsTechnica.

[59] Ruslan Shevchenko, coordinator of the IT-tent, 12/25/2014, email, “Interview.”

[60] Such is a grim story of the Maidan activists Ihor Lutsenko and Yuriy Verbytsky. On January 21, they were abducted from the Zhovtnevy Hospital when Lutsenko delivered Verbytsky, who was wounded, to seek treatment for an eye injury. As Human Rights Watch reported, as soon as the two men entered the hospital, “a group of 7 to 10 men dressed in civilian clothing stormed into the hospital, struck both men, twisted their arms behind their backs, and dragged them to a minivan.” With a concussion, broken teeth, multiple hematomas and open wounds in the soft tissue of his right leg, among other injuries, Lutsenko survived the torture and was thrown out by the captors in the forest near Kyiv. Not far from there, on January 22, the body of Verbytsky was found. See:

[61] I invite and will greatly appreciate any comments on this subject, as I am certain, there were more instances of safe networking / communication practice than I was able to locate.

[62] Only once, I read about a case of developing an original app, SOSMessage (Android OS), designed for sending SOS messages to the defined phone numbers by the Maidan participant Ihor Pysmennyi, who is also the developer of UA-Трибуна (UA-Tribune) app for “the latest news from the Maidan barricades and video posts for reflection.” See the apps:


[64] For example, Adam Curtis discussion of it in All Watched Over by the Machines of Loving Grace (2011), see Oleskiy Radynski’s comment in this regard in “Maidan and Beyond, Part I.”

[65] With the exception of several Internet television and radio stations, i.e., Hromadske TV, Hromadske Radio and Esperso TV, dedicated to informing viewers about the events on the Maidan and beyond.

[66] For more information see her material here:

[67] See Amar Toor coverage of the takeover for The Verge. Noteworthy, currently, VKontakte’s CEO is Boris Dobrodeev, a son of Oleg Dobrodeev, a CEO of All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (RTR), a major media holding owned and controlled by the government.

[68] See the reports here:

[69] Back in 2012, Max Schrems, an Austrian law student and founder of the advocacy group Europe versus Facebook, requested his data from Facebook and received a 1,200 page long file with information organized in 57 categories. See more:

[70] The open letter is available here:

[71] The group page:

[72] See Kristensen’s post on the group’s wall from November 18, 2014.

[73] See the post here:


[75] Here we see the variations of the same tags in different languages and their transliterations into the Latin alphabet: i.e. “euromaydan” is a transliteration of either Russian “евромайдан” or Ukrainian “євромайдан” or both; “maidan” is a transliteration of either Russian “майдан” or Ukrainian “майдан” or both, and so on.

[76] This discussion uses results of the additional analysis of Kyiv Instagram data by the project team, which was made available to me.

[77] Nataliya Gumenyuk, “From a #Euromainad in Ukraine,” openDemocracy, 29 November 2013.


[79] See “Žižek: What Europe should learn from Ukraine."


[81] Poland, several Baltic States, and Canada, among only several other countries who understood the dangers of the Ukrainian situation, provided a great informational support of Ukraine by covering the events professionally.

[82] Most of all, the media image of Ukrainian protester was affected by the blown out of proportions issue of the far-right groups on the Maidan. Far from denying the presence and disturbing activity of these groups during the protest, the absolute majority of those who fought on the Maidan were shocked and offended by the fact that the meaning of their struggle was so easily hijacked by media under the influence of Russian propaganda. Today Russian media continue re-using the labels “junta” and “nazi” and attaching them to Ukraine’s new government. Also see Victoria Narizhna’s analysis of Western media reports about the Maidan in Krytyka.

[83] The video is available here:

[84] It was reported that American Palmer Stewart Charles (in this video), who brought the film to Kyiv and assisted with its translation in Ukrainian, was forbidden to stay in the country for the “encouragement of civil disobedience” on January 22. On January 26, his projecting equipment was confiscated and his credit cards were blocked. He had to leave Ukraine.

[85] See “Žižek: What Europe should learn from Ukraine.

[86] See

[87] Abbreviations in the order of appearance: “away from keyboard,” “face-to-face,” “in real life.”


Badiou, Alain. Being and Event (New York: Continuum: 2007).

Bauman, Zygmunt; Didier Bigo, Paulo Esteves, Elspeth Guild, Vivienne Jabri, David Lyon and R. B. J. Walker, “After Snowden: Rethinking the Impact of Surveillance,” International Political Sociology 8 (2014): 121–144.

Clough, Patricia and Jusbir Puar. “Introduction,” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.1-2 (2012).

Deibert, Ronald J. Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy, and the Dark Side of the Internet (Toronto: Random House, 2013).

Gitelman, Lisa. ‘Raw Data’ Is an Oxymoron (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013).

Harris, Shane. @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex (New York: An Eamon Dolan Book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

Ishchenko, Volodymyr. “Ukraine’s Fractures: Interview ,” New Left Review 87 (2014).

Jurgenson, Nathan. “When Atoms Meet Bits: Social Media, the Mobile Web and Augmented Revolution,”Future Internet 4 (2012): 83-91.

Kulyk, Volodymyr. “The media at the time of unrest: a report of a Maidan participant,” Russian Journal of Communication 6.2 (2014).

Onuch, Olga and Tamara Martsenyuk. “Mothers and Daughters of the Maidan: Gender, repertoires of violence, and the division of labour in Ukrainian protests,” SHCS Journal: Contemporary Ukraine: A case of Euromaidan 1.1 (2014): 105-126.

Onuch, Olga. “The Maidan, Past and Present: Orange Revolution (2004) and the EuroMaidan (2013-2014),” July 11, 2014, Working paper for publication in: Marples, D. et. al. (eds). Euromaidan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

Radynski, Oleksiy. “Maidan and Beyond, Part I,” e-flux 55 (2014).

Ryabchuk, Anastasiya. “Right Revolution? Hopes and Perils of the Euromaidan Protests in Ukraine,” Debatte 22.1 (2014): 127-134.

About the author:

Dr. Svitlana Matviyenko is a media scholar who writes on mobile media, cybernetics and psychoanalysis. Born in Ukraine, she lived in Kyiv until 2004 when she moved to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship. Now she works towards her second doctorate in critical theory and information theory at the University of Western Ontario. She is a co-editor (with Paul Miller) of The Imaginary App (MIT Press, 2014).