Ukraine War On Reddit: Where Frontline Videos Meet Political Memes

Whether it's an international press review or shaky cell phone clips from the war zone: Reddit can be a helpful source of news - as long as you remain critical.

Of course, the war in Ukraine was also present here: on April 1, the Internet platform Reddit conducted a collaborative experiment for the second time under the name r/ place. All users could paint a pixel on a huge, virtual screen every five minutes. Individual communities agreed to create larger works, and so it happened that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj was also seen in the meantime. With sunglasses and the slogan " Слава Україні " – "Long live Ukraine". As seen in the time lapse, the pixel president replaced a banner with the not-so-creative statement, " Fuck Putin".

Reddit isn't just a site where people meet up for pixel painting or nostalgia , it's also a comprehensive news aggregator. According to a 2020 survey by the US Pew Research Center, about six percent of US citizens surveyed regularly use Reddit as a news source. While that's significantly less than Twitter (15 percent) and Facebook (32 percent), among Reddit users, according to previous surveys, seven out of 10 people use the site as a news source.

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Using the example of the war in Ukraine, it has been possible to observe in recent weeks how social media have blossomed into sources of news. On TikTok, users experience the war directly and unfiltered, between cooking instructions and dance videos. On Facebook and Twitter it depends a lot on who you are connected to: what they think, mean and share about the war mainly shows up in your own timeline. This is also the case on Reddit. But through the various communities, one can experience the facets of the conflict in a different way, and pursue them in a more targeted manner.

Reddit delivers impressions from the "most viral war in history"

One of the best-known subreddits, as the communities on the platform are called, when it comes to the Ukraine war is r/UkraineConflict. The main focus there is on general news and debates related to the conflict: news, analyzes and tweets from mostly English-speaking sources are posted by users and put up for debate by others. One of the rules is that the titles of news articles are not "edited" but are reproduced in the original whenever possible. This is apparently intended to prevent a rating already taking place in the title line. They want an "informed and intelligent discussion of the facts," the description says.

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It remains to be seen how intelligent the discussion actually is. It is true that some of the contributions contain quite interesting assessments and analyses. In many cases, however, the answers consist of sometimes more, sometimes less creative short comments and ideas. Still, r/UkraineConflict is a good place to get an international press review. The information that you would have to follow countless journalists and media or lists for on Twitter can be found on Reddit on a single page.

The immediacy is even clearer in the r/UkraineWarVideoReport subreddit. As the name suggests, it's all about war-related videos: interviews from news sites sit alongside TikTok clips, drone videos and cellphone footage of soldiers playing flutes. This cacophony of impressions may reinforce the impression that the war in Ukraine is, as The Economist put it, the "most viral war" in history to date. At the same time, the sources of the clips are often unclear. Although r/UkraineWarVideoReport also prohibits the posting of fake news, all videos can be published, if necessary with the note "unconfirmed information".

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A certain degree of caution is therefore always required, especially with video snippets and photos from the war zone. After all, propaganda always takes place on both sides, and increasingly also on social media platforms. After all: In contrast to Twitter or Facebook, where content can only be liked, Reddit allows individual posts to be both upgraded and downgraded. 

This rating system allows the community to quickly ditch any suspected problematic, misleading, or fake content in the depths of a subreddit. The system does not offer complete protection against fake news and propaganda: it can be misused, for example by many people agreeing to rate certain topics or comments positively or negatively (which violates Reddit guidelines). But it's a way to rank content for accuracy and usefulness.

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At least the question of authenticity does not arise in the subreddits r/NonCredibleDefense and r/UkrainianMemes. Here we simply collect what the meme machine has to offer, from crude to tongue-in- cheek to actually quite funny. And since Ukraine's official Twitter account has long been communicating with memes, and since humor and satire have their place even in times of war, this content can also be said to have a certain news value.

The pro-Russian community is isolated on Reddit

Incidentally, as far as the attitude towards the war in Ukraine is concerned, the fronts are not only staked out on r/UkrainianMemes: the bulk of the Reddit community, which consists of two-thirds people from English-speaking countries, is clearly on the side of the besieged country - and expresses her opinion of Vladimir Putin and his helpers loudly and not always with youth-friendly words.

The pro-Russian community, on the other hand, is literally isolated. Since the beginning of March, one of the largest (English-language) Russian subreddits r/Russia has been in quarantine: the community may continue to be active, but its content does not appear in Reddit searches or on overview pages. The community now contains "a large amount of information that is not supported by credible sources" as a warning.

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