45north, in partnership with the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project, analyzed Romanian language social media data from Facebook, Twitter and Telegram for the first six months of 2022, data associated with the war in Ukraine. We analyzed the top 100 most popular posts based on the number of interactions gathered for three separate narratives: Appeasement, Anti-NATO/ Anti-US and Energy Security.
Key takeaways from all three narratives
- The first significant takeaway from this research is that Facebook remains the dominant social media platform in Romania by far, when compared to Twitter and Telegram. This is important because it shows us where we should focus our efforts to monitor Romanian language social media conversation in order to counter disinformation in the future.
- For Facebook, posts labeled as “oppose” gathered significant numbers of the total interactions for the top 100 relevant posts analyzed, ranging from 30,8% (Appeasement narrative) to 50% (Anti-NATO/Anti-US narrative). The Energy Security registered 38% of total interactions from posts labeled as “oppose”.
- Also, posts labeled as “oppose” gather significantly more interactions than those marked as “support”. For example, for the Energy Security narrative, 29 posts (from 100 relevant posts analyzed) generated 38% of the interactions, for the Anti-NATO/Anti-US narrative, 47 posts generated 50% of total interactions and for the Appeasement narrative, 21 posts generated 30,8% of total interactions.
- Based on the number of interactions gathered, ranging from 5% (for the Anti-NATO/anti-US narrative) to 23,8% (for the Appeasement narrative), Moldova is a significant part of the Romanian language Facebook conversation. For the Appeasement narrative, it actually “punches” above its demographic weight in relation to Romania (Moldova has approximately 14% of Romania’s population).
- Posts from sources labeled as Fake/Conspiracy and Questionable have consistently gathered more than double or even triple the number of interactions than posts from sources labeled as Quality. This means that quality mainstream media content is far and between and it “drowns” in a sea of questionable content and disinformation that may be promoted under Facebook’s algorithms, that are favorable to divisive content.
- Videos tend to be the most prevalent form of Facebook post, especially when looking strictly at posts labeled as “oppose”. The fact that this type of content generally gathers the most interactions shows that it has a deeper impact on viewers than text or podcast/audio.
- Content from Political Biased sources rank number one in terms of interactions gathered on Facebook for two of the three narratives. Political Biased sources in general are supportive of Ukraine and its cause but the drawback is that in a highly polarized political and social environment, content from politicians / political parties tends to be discounted offhand by people that are in opposition with that particular politician/political party, thus Political Biased sources being the number one type of source in terms of interactions gathered in two of the three narratives might rather be characterized as negative.
- The broad themes of disinformation that we have encountered in the analyzed posts on Facebook are “America is the instigator of the war”, “Europe will freeze without Russian gas”, “Romania should adopt neutrality so as to not be dragged into the war”, “NATO expansionism provoked Russia”, “Romanian leaders blindly follow the Americans”. Another common theme is the lack of a clear distinction between the aggressor and the victim and the direct or indirect equating between the two.
- Twitter is not the platform of choice for Romanians and this has been evident in the difference between the number of total interactions gathered across the three platforms when compared to Facebook.
- The biggest difference for Twitter data when compared with Facebook, besides the total interactions gathered, is that there is a higher percentage of posts (and subsequent interactions) that support Ukraine. For the Anti-NATO/Anti-US and Energy Security narratives, interactions from posts labeled as “support” are in clear majority (68,9%, respectively 65,8%). In the case of the Appeasement narrative, interactions from neutral posts are the vast majority (80,7%) because of how we have thought of the neutral concept in the context of this narrative.
- The broad themes and narratives on Twitter opposing Ukraine mostly mirror what we have seen on Facebook, with ideas like “America wants war”, “We should negotiate for Russian gas and not pay for expensive American gas (LNG)”, and a general undercurrent of illiberal values that (in the respective users’ opinion) are more aligned with Russia than with a decadent West/America.
Authors: Dragoș Ghimpe, Dragoș Tîrnoveanu
This report has been prepared with support from IRI's Beacon Project. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of IRI.
The link to the full publication can be found: here.