Yevgeniy Golovchenko, Mareike Hartmann and Rebecca Adler-Nissen
This article explores the dynamics of digital (dis)information in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. International Relations scholars have presented the online debate in terms of ‘information warfare’—that is, a number of strategic campaigns to win over local and global public opinion, largely orchestrated by the Kremlin and pro-western authorities. However, this way of describing the online debate reduces civil society to a mere target for manipulation. This article presents a different understanding of the debate. By examining the social media engagement generated by one of the conflict's most important events—the downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine—we explore how competing claims about the cause of the plane crash are disseminated by the state, media and civil society. By analysing approximately 950,000 tweets, the article demonstrates how individual citizens are more than purveyors of government messages; they are the most active drivers of both disinformation and attempts to counter such information. These citizen curators actively shape competing narratives about why MH17 crashed and citizens, as a group, are four times more likely to be retweeted than any other type of user. Our findings challenge conceptualizations of a state-orchestrated information war over Ukraine, and point to the importance of citizen activity in the struggle over truths during international conflicts.