Saturday, April 4, 2015

Social media and information warfare: A Thunderclap Case Study

There should be no doubt in any sane individual's mind that Russia is waging a very hybrid war against Ukraine, which includes social media and information warfare, with all its trolls and scum that try to distract those working in Ukraine's interest from being positive. As pointed out by Paul Goble, Vladimir Putin is clever but not very creative. Just as he uses the Goebbels play book of propaganda, he has used Joseph Stalin's hybrid warfare playbook.

From what I experienced last week on social media the trolls have really gotten under the skin of some individuals who are concerned about the well being of kidnapped Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and one in particular who started the Million Tweets campaign for her release with the hash-tag #FreeSavchenko. Clearly, when the trolls discovered that this campaign existed they began subversive moves in creating hash-tags which looked very similar to the campaign's hash-tag. If one was not careful and aware, they would inadvertently re-tweet these "troll-injected" hash-tags and thus in principle stealing from potential number of tweets that the #FreeSavchenko Twitter Storm campaign. The lead on the Twitter Storm campaign clearly was annoyed with this theft, which he claimed was a hack of Twitter by Moscow. In focusing his energy on dealing with this he was distracted from his main goal, to raise the awareness of Nadiya Savchenko's plight in a Moscow remand prison who had started a hunger strike on December 13, 2014.

I personally had been involved in this Twitter Storm campaign, but had made a conscientious decision to also drive the Thunderclap campaign started by a fellow Canadian living in Kyiv. This second campaign which I backed and drove became extremely successful and even got coverage on UAToday, a recent media project of Ihor Kolomoiskyi. The reaction of some involved in the #FreeSavchenko Twitter storm was extremely surprising to this airtime, was nothing short of childish. I vented about their reaction on Twitter but here I hope to lay the facts to bare, both as why a Thunderclap campaign can be an example of working smarter not harder, and some lessons learned from the two different campaigns I have run.

Why to @ThunderClapIt and my Ukrainian cases

The day after Yanuckovych's storm-troopers descended on students who voicing their interest in the move towards standards of the European Union, on Ukraine's Independence Square, I was contacted by a friend living in Kyiv in order to start, what was called a Thunderclap campaign to reach as many with one simple message. "Ukraine's government has gone too far. Bloodshed is not a a democratic value! Ukraine's people want to be in Europe."

For those of you who don't understand how Thunderclap works, here is a very simple explanation.

Thunderclap allows for those involved in social media, right now on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to amplify their social reach through asking their contacts, followers and friends to lend their social contact to the particular Thunderclap. This is very personal when in doing so because most have a hard time in sharing their social reach. I can understand most people for not doing so, however, I still feel that those who are overly anal on this issue is totally out of touch with reality. If you are a person of interest of any security agency globally they have already hacked all your social media accounts. So don't worry about joining Thunderclap! You really are not a person of interest, unless you are ready to commit terrorist acts, or someone who is trying to battle Moscovy's trolls.

One of the biggest problems with Thunderclap is that when you invite others to lend their social reach, that is pretty intrusive for most. However, like I mention above, most are a little too paranoid about sharing such social reach. Such paranoia leads to health problems, so stop it.

Before, I will launch into the case of this Thunderclap I would like to share some the reasons for using a Thunderclap in the realm of social media. This is totally for the free version of Thunderclap, as I am certain if I had a sponsor to conduct my project I may have been able to determine many more interesting insights to this technology and social interaction on social media.

Reasons for using Thunderclap
  1. You have a dead line to announce an event. You want many thousands if not millions of people to know about your message at the same time. The deadline helps get your solitary message out at one particular time and it is shared at that time by all those that support the message;
  2. You need people go to a particular URL- you have a live event and you want to get people there regardless where they are on this big blue marble, you have to create a message that will be shared to visit that online event. By sharing your social reach you can reach out to thousands of more individuals than you could yourself or through your friends and organizations;
  3. Short and Tweet compliant message. This means you are with in the 140 character limit set by Twitter, you must be short and sweet in you final message. It will resonate to all those who lend their social reach to you.
  4. While the Thunderclap message may not be something that could be edited effectively for disseminating a message, it could be effectively be used to guide those in the cause to help distribute other pre-prepared messages from a particular website.
Amongst these mentioned reasons, it is very important to work smarter and not harder. While I know there are people out there that don't like my stance on this, that is their problem not mine.

Measuring Success With Thunderclap

Unfortunately measuring of success with many social media initiatives is truly impossible, the social reach one obtains with Thunderclap is very clear.
  • When you set your initial goal of social reach with Thunderclap, you will know throughout your campaign what percentage of your goal has been reached;
  • There is no second guessing and the entire social reach will receive on your dashboard;
  • Your reach, or access to a particular site will be measurable in an ongoing and final methodology.
As mentioned earlier, I was personally involved in driving two Thunderclap campaigns. Measuring success is very different because of both their causes and their goals.

The first campaign was very ambitious, and lets provide some reason why this was the case.

For any Thunderclap campaign there are a possibility of three different goal levels of supporters for your cause and who you believe will end their social reach to your campaign.
  • 100 supporters;
  • 250 supporters;
  • 500 supporters.
These are key components when structuring your Thunderclap campaign, and many people, particularly venturing into this very new domain where there is a trust matter have to consider. Just how many supporters can you bring into your particular Thunderclap cause?

Understanding this number as a goal in starting a Thunderclap campaign is probably one of the most important factors which will determine success or not! Simple!

During our first Thunderclap we attempted to reach 500 supporters, the two of us running the campaign really thought this was possible though we were mistaken. Looking back over the last year I can understand there were many different reasons why this didn't happen, they included, but not limited to:
  1. Not clearly understanding how suspicious users are of sharing their social media in any way, shape or form;
  2. Along with this was the problem of just how naive users are about how technologies actually work, information technology education is in fact lacking in society as a whole;
  3. A clear marketing campaign had not also been developed to market the Thunderclap campaign itself to explain the technology and how it works.
The first campaign reached a social reach of 188,975 individuals with 53% for of our goal of the number of supporters. As a result of not meeting or goal for the number of supporters not being met by 100% our message that was to go out to every individual within the social reach of 188,975 individuals was never Thunderclapped, and thus could be considered an unsuccessful campaign; however, the lessons learned during that campaign were invaluable in running the second campaign which became an information warfare tool in ensuring more people heard a very simple and plain message.

Doing it right for your cause

When I came on board to lead the second Thunderclap campaign, the cause to me was just. It was to make as many people globally aware of Nadiya Savchenko by sending out a single message to as large of a social reach as possible using the three social media platforms supported by Thunderclap: Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.

Unlike the first Thunderclap I had driven, the goal was much more reasonable and attainable based on our previous experience a year earlier where we had attained 53% of 500 supporters, or 265 individuals and their entire social reach of 188,975. This time we had set our goal for 100 supporters who would be willing to lend their social reach to our very simple message: "Unite with Ukraine to #FreeSavchenko from Russian imprisonment Разом визволимо Надію Савченко із російського полону." I thought how could anyone not want to join very clearly defined cause that had been clearly trending and that I personally had contributed to.

Unlike the first campaign which I had driven, this time I avoided one specific thing! The hard sell! If I was to gain the social reach I desired from the start which was quarter of a million social reach as discussed by my partner on this project, there was no reason I should waste time on trying to hard sell someone. My focus had to be finding my social contacts with great social reach and those which I new believed in the cause. They would help and they did!

In particular there was one fellow, who contributed over 77K of his social reach to our cause, and there was one moment during this informational war where I went one step further than most would. Maybe some people remember a journalist by the name of Irma Krat. She was held from some time by the terrorists of the DNR in Slovyansk. Irma and I have been social contacts for some time and as I was inviting my contacts to join this Thunderclap I discovered that Irma had become a victim of Moscow's trolls on Facebook and had been banned. This pissed me off a great deal, because it had limited the voice of journalist.

I spent some time to get Irma out of Facebook purgatory, not because I needed her on my Thunderclap campaign, but because I have lost a number of journalist and activist friends in Ukraine over the years. By be-all-and-end-all was not the Thunderclap campaign but to be involved in justice. I think anyone who has taken the time to dig deeper into my pages will know I'm not new to Ukrainian matters. Those of you who think you are new heroes, particularly Alex Smith aka @GlastostGone - think again. Your ego like that of so many Ukrainians harms Ukraine and doesn't help it!

Results of a not so perfect campaign

Just as a reminder! A Thunderclap campaign is either ALL or NOTHING. I'd gone through a nothing campaign and now I was going through an all campaign. A Thunderclap in which I knew the social reach would be whatever it was knowing that the goal of supporters was attainable.

I am one of the first to admit that I am not perfect, though that in itself is a strength and not a weakness. I have learnt a great deal over my nearly twenty-eight years working with Ukrainian and other non-governmental and volunteer organizations. For the most part, I find most organizations in Ukraine much more professional than their counterparts in the west; however, newly formed organizations during civil upheaval are staffed by totally non-professionals who make inappropriate judgement calls. While I have evidence of this I do not to expose individual, but their non-professionalism really pisses me off. I had been approached by this organization to consult on both social media and potential Thunderclap campaigns. In all honesty the hypocrisy of these individuals is criminal to say the least!

While this piece was to look at how to use Thunderclap, it has and will become a way of exposing the hypocrisy of those trying to take advantage of a political situation. But no, I will not do that. The culprits know who they are. They are not better or worse than I am, they are just very misinformed and misguided in what they are trying to do.

If you are trying to increase a social reach or global understanding of what allies are trying to do, you to become an enemy of the state you are part of by putting down others. The Thunderclap campaign which I directed was covered on UAToday - not because we tried to push on TV but because journalist from that station contacted my friend and partner on this project - Luc Chenier. Yes, I know there are some of you who hate professionals, well it's time to soak it up. Take some time to listen to this interview to better understand what we accomplished:

Continuing the conversation

"Changing the subject in order to change the conversation," this is the way that trolls work for globally. The Thunderclap that I was driving was very much aimed in that direction. This is a key element for any Thunderclap campaign. How to continue a conversation and ensure that it gets into the public eye!

In any Thunderclap campaign it is important to ensure that you get to the final goal. Though this is also the campaign that should exist when dealing with any type of media. I happen to understand old and new media, thought not as a professional but as a user. No, I am wrong, I understand all media better than most having been on the media divide.

So, I put forth the following posit! Why were individuals so anal about the success of our Thunderclap campaign? I hope that they are not afraid in entering into a discussion a little longer down the path. Some of the comments I know about regarding not even seeing the above mentioned TV segment is a enough to show the hypocrisy of NGO's in Ukraine. I have no need to do that, but what I do need to do is share my positive experience.

We were two individuals, with a desire to let the world know that Nadiya Savchenko was on a hunger strike and illegally detained in a Russian reprimand prison. Clearly there were some individuals who felt we were doing the wrong thing! Using a technology to disseminate information in a sensible manner! Sorry to the people we may have pissed off, but we reached our goal. You on the other hand, are still struggling and totally misguided in terms of social media.

While those who are misguided, there are those who do appreciate the work of professionals. In particular, my partner on this project, Luc Chenier, received a message from Ukraine's Minister of Finance, Natalie Jaresko on February 15, 2015. The daunting task that Ukraine's government now has after years of kleptocracy is a daunting one, the this is the shout out which a government official took the time to send.


Message From Ukraine's Minister of Finance, to Luc Chenier Regarding Message From Ukraine's Minister of Finance, to Luc Chenier on LinkedIn Regarding Our ThunderClap Campaign
Message From Ukraine's Minister of Finance, to Luc Chenier
on LinkedIn Regarding Our ThunderClap Campaign
For those who want to continue to deny that we are all a drop in the bucket towards positive activities contribute to public awareness about Ukraine, continue doing so, we know who you are; and clearly government officials also know that there are people who look at things professionally and who will continue to do so!


For anyone, who wants to learn how to work smarter and not harder, take some time to follow the following very primitive flow chart.

A simple flowchart of how Thunderclap works! If you are wondering how to run a successful @ThunderClapIt I am more than willing to provide consulting services based on my experience and lessons learned. Please feel free to contact me.
The Thunderclap process!
I together with one partner, gained a social reach of over 350K, and it was not because we worked hard, but we leveraged the technologies that were available to us. You can see that particular extremely successful Thunderclap campaign here. I am completely ready to share more of the lesson's I have learned on how to complete a successful Thunderclap campaign, though for this we have to discuss these matters on a personal and commercial level.

I've don't have to be a hero for Ukraine, I've done my time on the ground. I will do things for Ukraine and others who can understand my knowledge and experience. I'm not a whore, and will never be. I know my value, and right now I can say that my value and if you try to put me down, it simply shows you are idiots and falling into the hands of Moscovy.

Yes, there was a political bent to this piece, but at the same time I hope someone out there learns a bit about Thunderclap as a tool in information warfare. Clearly, there are many who seem to not understand what side we are fighting. I hope they grow up and stop being children soon! The sooner the better!

Vasyl Pawlowsky Independent Consultant

The commentary of this was first published on the site.

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