Influencers and content creators on social media have gained a prominent role in today’s information environment as opinion makers and agenda setters. They are no longer solely relevant in the communication and marketing strategies of companies but are also gaining importance in the political information ecosystem. As such, influencers and content creators share or post political content, make recommendations for whom to vote, or even act on behalf of political parties.
Their role in sharing information is becoming even more important as more and more people, and especially younger cohorts, consume information and news (almost) exclusively through social media platforms. In their respective information ecosystems, influencers enjoy high credibility among their followers. In addition, influencers have infiltrated the ranks of traditional media makers, while traditional media have been weakened and journalists are at times restricted in their work.
At the same time, the spread of intentionally false or misleading information – disinformation – poses an increasingly serious threat to free and democratic societies. As several countries struggle with internal conflicts and democratic backsliding, threats to a fact-based information ecosystem can spread exponentially and challenge social cohesion and democratic discourse. This holds even more true in times of conflict and war. Especially Central and Eastern European countries, among others, have already become prominent arenas for a contested online space and strategic information operations.
Since social media influencers can consciously or subconsciously reinforce disinformation campaigns, they bear a special responsibility as public opinion leaders in countering disinformation. They can make an essential contribution to the gathering of knowledge and the development of better regulation for a healthy information environment. In other words, they can act apprehensive of their ethical and political responsibility and influence, spread awareness about information manipulation and thereby contribute to societal resilience in democracies. Fighting disinformation calls for cross-actor cooperation that also includes influencers, as the Aspen Germany’s predecessor project “Engaging German Influencers Initiative” has shown.
Against this backdrop, Aspen Germany is launching the project “Disinformation and the Role of Social Media Influencers in Times of Crises, Conflicts, and Wars”. It brings together social media influencers and content creators from Germany as well as Central and Eastern Europe with other actors to discuss their role in democratic societies in times of conflict. Over the course of one year, a select international group of influencers will exchange lessons-learned, meet with academics, experts, and decision-makers, and discuss mechanisms of disinformation and their dissemination via social media, and how to counter them. Through digital workshops and face-to-face meetings, the project aims to foster the development of a sustainable network of European social media influencers, while ensuring that the participants are independent in forming their individual opinion and perception. The goal is to strengthen media literacy and resilience in the countries of the region, as well as cross-border cooperation.
The results will be published in writing as policy recommendations.
The project is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office. We thank the Aspen Institute Central Europe, the Aspen Institute Kyiv, and the Aspen Institute Romania for their support.
In cooperation with the Aspen Partner Institutes in Bucharest, Kyiv, and Prague, 17 participants from Ukraine, Germany, Romania, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Latvia were chosen from about 60 applications. Selection criteria were individual interest, reach, and the diversity within the group.
Vlad Adamescu (Romania) is, together with Răzvan Petri, the co-founder of Politică la minut (‘Instant Politics’). Politică la minut is a civic initiative aiming to explain Romanian and European Union politics (and policies) to young people. Vlad has studied public policy and worked in the political and think tank sector. He is currently doing a traineeship in the office of MEP Dacian Cioloș at the European Parliament.
Anastasia Barner (Germany) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram and the CEO of FeMentor, which she founded at 20. Her topics include female founding, reverse mentoring, and social media. She was also the international TikTok face for Deutsche Welle in 2020-2021.
Anna Danylchuk (Ukraine) is a YouTube vlogger sharing real-life human stories from Ukraine as well as about Ukrainian culture and history. Anna is an associate professor of Linguistics and author of a daily Ukrainian newspaper.
Mihai Geamănu (Romania) is part of the YouTube collective “Zaiafet,” one of the largest educational channels on YouTube in Romania. In addition, Mihai is co-hosting a weekly TV segment on the public Romanian TV station TVR 1, which tackles dis- and misinformation.
Jakub Gulab (Czech Republic) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, where he posts content about fun facts, interesting science research, studying abroad, and his lifestyle. In addition to his social media activities, Jakub studies and works at a Czech commercial television station.
Dana Isarova (Latvia) is an influencer/content creator on Twitter and Instagram. She talks as an active pediatrician about child health, vaccinations, or a healthy lifestyle. Having family in Ukraine, Dana also talks about news from Ukraine, charity initiatives, and personal insights and ideas from her daily life.
Anastasiia Ivanicheva (Ukraine) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram, where she talks about brand marketing and successful communication. She works as a marketing expert and communications manager for international businesses.
Vlad Mixich (Romania) is an influencer/content creator on Facebook and a health policy expert. On Facebook, his topics focus on health issues, politics in Eastern Europe, and cultural life.
Max Mundhenke (Germany) is an influencer/content creator on Twitter, talking about everything internet-related. Recently, Max focused more on work-related topics, such as employer branding and new work. He works in the field of corporate communications and international PR crisis mandates.
Irina Palko (Ukraine) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram who educates her audience about successful public speaking skills. Irina founded a public speaking school and a consultancy agency supporting new businesses in attracting grants.
Indrė Plėštytė-Būtienė (Lithuania) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram and Facebook where she talks about children’s health, environmental health, and how it impacts human’s health. Indrė is a general pedriatrician and the CEO of a pediatric clinics and shops network. She also participates in scientific projects as a researcher.
Răzvan Petri (Romania) is, together with Vlad Adamescu, the co-founder of Politică la minut (‘Instant Politics’). Politică la minut is a civic initiative aiming to explain Romanian and European Union politics (and policies) to young people. Răzvan studies public policy and has worked as a parliamentary advisor at the Romanian and the European Parliament.
Christine Reiß (Germany) is an influencer/content creator on TikTok where she shares tips on hair care and styling as a hairdresser by training. Christine works as a freelance video producer, copywriter, and moderator in the Berlin innovation community. She also studies journalism and communication science.
Yuliia Tymoshenko (Ukraine) is a digital activist on Twitter and Instagram. Yuliia creates English-speaking content about Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the history of Ukraine-Russia relations. She works in Marketing at a Ukrainian-Canadian social enterprise.
Patrīcija Vavilova (Latvia) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram sharing a mix of lifestyle, food, and fashion, as well as informative posts on work and digital detox. Patrīcija studies law and finance and works at the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Valeriia Voshchevska (Ukraine) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram, where she talks about her native country and promotes feminism and human rights. Valeriia is also a co-founder of the podcast series @UkrainianSpaces and works as a freelance digital communications strategist for NGOs. Prior to Russia’s War of Aggression against Ukraine, she worked as a global head of digital engagement at an international human rights organization.
Yulia Yanchar (Ukraine) is an influencer/content creator on Instagram, where she talks about female empowerment and women’s employment, information hygiene, political communication skills, Russia’s War of Aggression against Ukraine, and her personal life. She is the public relations director of a Ukrainian charity organization.
- Welcome Event (May 02, 2023)
- Berlin Study Trip (June 06-08, 2023)
- In-Depth Workshop I (tba)
- In-Depth Workshop II (tba)
- Follow-Up Meeting (Oct 04, 2023)
- Prague Study Trip (Dec 06-08, 2023)
On June 6-8 participants of the project „Disinformation and the Role of Social Media Influencers in Times of Conflict“ met in Berlin. During their time there we had amazing discussions that led to important insights!
The purpose of our Berlin study tour was to engage in discussions about the situations in their respective countries, identify actionable areas and effective measures, and explore the role and potential of influencers in fostering democratic resilience through their online presence. Additionally, participants had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Federal Press Office, the platform industry, and civil sector researchers.
In our workshop, it became even clearer that we cannot do without influencers as stakeholders in a whole-of-society-approach to combating disinformation.