The War in Ukraine as seen Through Romanian Facebook

In the context of the illegal and unprovoked February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent escalation of disinformation in social media, 45north, in partnership with the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project, analyzed the social media Romanian language conversation across multiple social media platforms to try to understand how Russian malign narratives permeated these environments. In previous reports we have looked at specific narratives on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, who disseminated them and how they have spread. In this final report we look at Facebook data (the dominant social platform in Romania) as plotted on graphs, to see how the story of the war unfolded as seen through the peaks and troughs of these graphs.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war against Ukraine, waged in the heart of Europe, might be the most important geopolitically and historically consequential event of our lifetimes. Beyond the everyday tactical decisions, the news headlines, the political speeches, the countless opinions, narratives, malign or otherwise, flooding real and online space, there is the reality of the suffering and death of ordinary Ukrainians and the lessons the world will learn after this war ends. If those lessons preach that might make right, then that world will not be a good place in which our children will live, as President Zelensky said in his December 21 address to the U.S. Congress.

These lessons are already in the process of being learned. Everyone, from everyday people, to decision makers and political figures, watch how this unfolds and that changes their ideas, mindset and calculations. This change in perceptions might be partially captured in the conversation we have amongst ourselves in the ubiquitousness of social media.

Even though no analytical product is perfect and thoroughly comprehensive, especially when dealing with large and complex volumes of data, we are confident we can draw a series of valuable key insights, based on the data analyzed in this report, as well as in the four previous reports on the prevalence of malign narratives in the Romanian language social media conversation (available here):

  1. Romania is a country at risk when it comes to the prevalence of pro-Russian malign narratives. This was also confirmed in a previous extensive research report from Beacon Project. As we have seen in our previous malign narratives reports related to Ukraine, Facebook posts opposing Ukraine gathered significant percentages of the total number of interactions (more than 50% for both halves of the year for the Anti-NATO/Anti-US narrative data). Out of the 26 dates (peaks and/or major events) analyzed in this report, 10 had the post with the most interactions containing clear malign, pro-Russian narratives. 
  2. Moldova has an outsized role in the Romanian language social media conversation. Moldova has roughly 14% of Romania’s population, but that big difference is definitely not reflected in the Facebook data. According to our malign narratives report for July-December 2022, 55% of the total interactions gathered by analyzed posts were from Moldova. In this report, out of the 26 dates (peaks and/or major events) analyzed, 8 had the top post by number of interactions from a Moldovan source. 
  3. Facebook is the dominant social media platform in Romania and Moldova, but the content consumed here might be a mirror of content consumed on TV. In our previous reports, we cited a poll by IRES (Romanian polling company), that concluded that the main source of information for Romanians, with regards to the war in Ukraine, was television (87% confirmed it as a source), while the second source was social media (27% confirmed it as a source). With most TV channels also having a social media presence, and with a known propensity for people to consume content that reinforce their already consolidated beliefs and opinions (confirmation bias), this means that a significant portion of the Romanian social media content related to the war in Ukraine might be an extension of what is consumed on TV. Out of the 26 dates (peaks and/or major events) analyzed in this report, 8 had the post with the most interactions coming from a TV channel’s Facebook page. 
  4. War fatigue is real. This is evident in figure 1 of this report. The peak from February 24, the start of the war, gradually turns into a trough, plateauing from May 19, with only four peaks reaching beyond 1600 posts in a single day. This is despite the fact that after May 19 there were many major events (eight, according to our list in Annex I). Also, according to our previous malign narratives reports for 2022, we saw a very significant drop in the total number of interactions gathered by each analyzed narrative in the second half of 2022, when compared to the January – June period (the biggest percentage drop was associated with the Appeasement narrative (62,1%, from 1,271,404 to 482,468 interactions). The most obvious reason for this might be war fatigue and the fact that the news cycle eventually incorporated other topics as time passed from February 24. Of course, there are certainly other factors that might come into play, this being a good separate proposed topic of research to better understand these potential additional factors.
  5. Video content is dominant when it comes to the posts with the most interactions. This was another very clear insight we gained from our research. In this report, out of the 26 dates (peaks and/or major events) analyzed, 17 had the post with the most interactions being a video. This trend was confirmed in our previous Ukraine related reports. According to these previous reports, videos tended to be even more prevalent among posts labeled as opposed to Ukraine. 
  6. When looking at malign narratives, more times than not, anti-American sentiment is more prevalent than pro-Russian sentiment. Based on the analysis of the data in the previous reports, with three specific narratives in focus (Anti-NATO/Anti-US, Appeasement, Energy Security), malign content more often than not criticized America than specifically supporting Russia. Of course, there were posts that supported Russia’s actions, but many times Russia actions were excused through American-related whataboutism and through accusation of American provocations. America is often portrayed as the puppet master behind the war, treating its allies like colonies, meddling in internal affairs in Romania and dictating to Romanian authorities what to do next.


Based on the key insights we presented above and by evaluating their consequences and effects, we lay out several recommendations that we think might improve the quality of the social media conversation in Romania and Moldova, as well as diminish the propagation of malign narratives, thus advancing Romania’s and its allies interests regarding the war in Ukraine:

  • Moldova must be taken into account in any type of analytical endeavor or public policy related to the mitigation of disinformation of any kind, given its proven significant role in the social media conversation in the Romanian language. Of course, Moldova’s strategic role was already evidently important, especially for Romania and in the context of Russia’s illegal invasion, and our insights reinforce this idea in the social media space. 
  • Social media is ubiquitous and important but as we look at the cited polling data, 86% of Romanians consume information about the war in Ukraine from TV. This means that research must focus resources on this component as well, if we want to know how disinformation spreads in the larger population. This means that national regulatory agencies that have the responsibility to monitor TV content also have a key role in stopping the spread of disinformation. 
  • Because we learned that video is the type of content that tends to gather the most interactions on Facebook, it demonstrates the need to extend specific disinformation research for video-based platforms like TikTok or YouTube, as well as to focus on video posts on other platforms.
  • The insight regarding the prevalence of video content should also raise alarms when coupled to the rise of deepfake videos. With the inevitable rise of AI-generated content, malign altered video content will probably prove to be a powerful tool to change perceptions within a population, especially a population that does not have the tools to protect itself. The first and most important line of defense should be the social platforms themselves, which should develop clear and understandable policies designed to mitigate deepfake videos
  • With regards to the malign narratives around American presence and influence in Romania and beyond, a first step to combat this would be to increase cultural ties between the two countries through bilateral state and private initiatives. While there are cultural events supported by the U.S. embassy in Romania, these efforts should be significantly scaled up, in order for the Romanian population to have a better understanding of the fact that Romania and America share the same values and have their fundamental interests aligned.


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.