Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what Russian leader Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation.” Guesses were that Kyiv would surrender in no more than 72 hours, Ukraine’s young president, Volodymyr Zelensky, would flee the country with his cabinet and Russia would occupy more of Ukraine’s territory. However, on February 25, 2022, Zelensky posted a video on his social media accounts assuring his and his cabinet’s permanence on Ukrainian soil to defend the country against the Russian invasion.
The video went viral on social media and made headlines in global news. It impacted the way the international community looked at the war in Ukraine, including Russian citizens. Their view on this war differed from previously held perspectives, especially compared to the 1990s. Mass media access and the development of technology worldwide contributed to this shift in perceptions, thus influencing the political sphere of both countries. However, this phenomenon is not only observable in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, but also in countries like Iran.
To continue with the case of the invasion of Ukraine, a significant number of the country’s citizens, without prior military training or experience, opted to remain on the ground to defend their homes against Russian attacks. The lack of military training led to Ukrainians resorting to using other means to fight back.
As an example, youngsters who played online video games used their technological prowess to use drones and missiles to kill Russian soldiers. Tactics and equipment being used at war are far more destructive than they used to be in the past fifty years, so without technology or the knowledge to use it would have resulted in a very different outcome for the Ukrainian defense. Having limited technological advances would not have allowed drone strikes, GPS jamming and global exposure to the acts being committed during this war.
Moreover, we witness considerable progress in telecommunications. What took months of correspondence through letters can now be achieved with the stroke of a keyboard. We know what is happening across the world in real time through live videos, news reports or social media posts. For example, Iran, a radical theocratic-led country, recently dominated the global headlines. The story of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurdish girl who died in a hospital in the country’s capital of Tehran after being arrested by Iran’s morality police, quickly became viral.
She was detained and beaten for not having the mandatory covering; once this news reached the international community, large crowds of people, mostly from the Iranian diaspora, demonstrated against the Iranian government’s policy towards women and girls. It led to the “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Liberty) civic movement in and out of Iran. The rapid diffusion of Amini’s story and the rise of this civic movement was largely attributed to modern technology.
To examine another country, right after the government of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021, the United States and other NATO allies conducted military evacuation operations between August 15 and 31. It was the tragedy of the year. Thousands and thousands of Afghans rushed to the Kabul Airport to be evacuated. Many families were separated from each other during the chaotic evacuation, including minor children.
Similarly, during World War II, hundreds of thousands were separated, especially those who belonged to targeted minority groups. They went missing, many were killed and there are many to this day that were never reunited with their loved ones. Although these two cases hold similarities, the main difference between the Afghanistan family separations and World War II is the access to technology. People in the present can use phones, computers and electronics to keep in touch with their families and spread global awareness of what they are enduring. These modern vessels of communication raise questions surrounding attempts by autocratic governments to control the narrative.
In reality, censorship is nearly impossible in today’s world. Neither the Iranian or Afghan government nor the Russian administration can censor news. Yes, there are attempts to control what information comes in and out of the country, but there are limitations on how much of the narrative state-sponsored media is capable of achieving. A large number of Russian citizens are against the war in Ukraine and protest it because they can see the case from other perspectives.
Today’s technology allows people from all over the world to access an ocean of data and information, so governments are no longer the only source of news. The broad access to information adds to people’s global awareness and allows them to critically think about issues. Despite the censorship efforts of the Afghan and Iranian governments, the global community was still made aware of the mass human rights violations that occur there, through social media, newspapers and television networks. This goes back to Mahsa Amini’s case. The aggression toward children and teenagers by the Iranian government – in response to the “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” movement – was not hidden from the world.
In brief, the impactful role of technology in communication and mobilizing people during wars and revolutions is undeniable. The new trends in civil societies and civic activism have been influenced by technology. Communication, conflicts, data and information are no longer in the hands of a small group of elites. Everyone can access data and get in touch with others in a matter of seconds.
From Zelensky’s video, the skillful Ukrainian video gamers, and the way Afghans managed to keep in touch with their families to the pieces of news coming out of Iran, all in all, are examples of how humans have changed, adapted and adopted new ways to communicate and stay alive, especially in times of war. Our lives have been tied to technology and this is why we have the ability to manage crises far better than our ancestors.
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