Social Media Monitoring: Hate Speech Against Ukrainian Refugees in Romania - Final Report

45north, in partnership with the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project, analyzed Romanian language social media data from Facebook, Twitter and Telegram for all of 2022 (materialized in two distinct reports, one for each half of 2022, available here and here), to see if and how hate speech regarding Ukrainian refugees has permeated the conversation. This report summarizes the key findings from the previous two reports. The methodology applied in these reports is detailed in each of the previous two reports.

Key summary

The main aim of this research was to identify if there was hate speech present in the Romanian language (Romania and Moldova) social media conversation in 2022, related to the Ukrainian refugees that entered both countries as a consequence of Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war. We adhered to the U.N. definition of hate speech in order to compare our findings. The conclusion is that hate speech following this exact definition is mostly absent in the data that we have analyzed. Even so, there are posts that thread this line or sometimes cross it, by labeling refugees as dangerous, ungrateful and/or unworthy of financial assistance. 
One particular concerning finding is that when Ukrainian refugees are used in political speech for political gain, as a perceived threat to Romanian society and economy, usually with nationalist undertones, hate speech is present in the comment section (this refers to Facebook) even though in the actual posts that the comments are posted to we do not clearly see hate speech. This means that this kind of political speech creates an environment where some social media users feel emboldened to express hate speech towards Ukrainian refugees.

Key findings

  • Our research shows that Facebook is the dominant social media environment in which Romanian language users and organizations engage. The results show that the majority of interactions for Facebook were generated by posts that support Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees
  • Hate speech that follows the exact definition stated by the United Nations is mostly absent from the analyzed data (the use of pejorative terminology, for example) but political speech against funding the refugees or skewed content from mainstream media tends to gather social media users in the comments that clearly express hate speech. In other words, for either political gains or clicks and viewership, politicians and/or media organizations appeal to the worst impulses and nurture a culture of hate towards the refugees and towards Ukraine’s cause. 
  • One particular concerning fact is that, when comparing the first six months of 2022, with the other half of the year, the percent of interactions from posts labeled as “support” (towards Ukrainian refugees) decreased significantly (85,8% of interactions supporting Ukrainian refugees on Facebook for the first six months of 2022 versus 60,4% for the last six months).
  • The topic of the Ukrainian refugee crisis has appeared significantly less in the Romanian social media conversation in the second half of 2022, compared to the first half, with almost 83% less interactions for the top 100 posts with most interactions (Facebook). 
  • Moldova, a Romanian language speaking country with a population seven times smaller that Romania (19,053,815 for Romania, versus 2,804,801 for Moldova), gathered more than 40% of total interactions on Facebook in both halves of the year, which is a clear measure of the growing importance of Moldova both in the overall strategic context of the invasion, as well as in the specific context of the Romanian language social media ecosystem.
  • In posts marked as “oppose” (as in opposed to Ukrainian refugees and the Allied / EU stance on this topic), hate speech revolved around characterizing Ukrainian refugees as ungrateful, dangerous or rich (in the sense that they do not need financial assistance). Some of these posts ask why Romanian authorities and individuals should help Ukrainians when those resources should be used to help Romanians.
  • Both on Twitter and Facebook, another common theme when addressing the refugee crisis is comparing the aid that the refugees received, especially governmental aid, to the conditions that poorer strata of the local population live in. While it is difficult to categorize this as hate speech, it definitely instills resentment in the local population towards refugees by implying that the economic aid that the latter receive could have been directed to Romanians in need. 
  • Twitter is clearly not the preferred platform for Romanians. However, Twitter data shows that, relative to the total number of interactions coming from relevant posts, there are more interactions coming from posts that support Ukraine and less from posts that oppose Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, when compared to Facebook data. Twitter posts opposing Ukrainian refugees mostly come from unknown and/or questionable sources, that just tweet statements, without any evidence or links.


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.