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As Ukraine's Protests Escalate, #Euromaidan Hashtag Lost in a Sea of Information

Protesters gathered under flags in Kyiv to demand the Ukrainian government to reverse its policy decision and sign a landmark agreement with the EU; photo by Sergii Kharchenko, courtesy of Demotix, used with permission.

Protesters gathered under flags in Kyiv to demand that the Ukrainian government reverse its policy decision and sign a landmark agreement with the EU. Photo by Sergii Kharchenko. Copyright Demotix.

Protests in Ukraine, which started on November 21, 2013, when President Victor Yanukovych and his government reneged on promises to sign an association agreement with the European Union, are the most populous since the 2004 Orange Revolution. New media and social networks have played a key role in both the initiation and development of the Euromaidan protests, as they are known.

But as the movement has escalated, it has become harder to follow solely on the Internet.

Euromaidan, observers say, was made possible in large part thanks to social media. Facebook and Twitter in particular have emerged as key platforms for coordinating protest activities and sharing information, photos and videos about protest numbers, locations and issues such as police violence and provocation from all sides.

The hashtags initially used (Ukrainian #євромайдан, Russian #евромайдан, and English #euromaidan) emerged immediately on the first evening of the protests and were highly useful as an instrument of preliminary coordination and for informing online users both in Ukraine and in other countries. They gave people a sense of the scale of events - during the initial stage of protests, some 3,200 tweets were published per hour on November 25 and up to 4,800 per hour on November 30, the day of the first violent police crackdown on protesters.

But as protests escalated, with law enforcement violently dispersing a group of protesters camped out in the main square of Ukraine's capital Kiev in the early morning hours of November 30, and massive crowds blocking and occupying key government buildings the following day, triggering violent standoffs in some instances with riot police, the hashtags began to disappear from many tweets about Euromaidan protests, making them harder to follow remotely.

A large number of tweets about the unrest still use the hashtags, but there are many Twitter users who are dropping what was once a tool to unite protesters and disperse information further:

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci quoted above observed when she followed the Gezi protests in Turkey that as the #occupygezi events unfolded, the popular hashtags used to coordinate people and set the protest agenda gave way to conversations among people in what most of them viewed as an already established network of like-minded citizens. Discussion and action on and offline remained very much alive and just as important to the outcome of the protests, but it continued on without the hashtag. She added on Twitter:

Popular sources of information on the Euromaidan protests, like the newly hatched online public television outlet Hromadske TV, which provided one of the few live streams from the protests, and key online news outlet Ukrainska Pravda, simply assume that those who are interested in following the protests will follow them anyway or retweet their updates to their own networks, so they don’t bother with hashtags that take up more characters that can be used instead for additional information most of the time.

The same line of thinking applies to already consolidated activist efforts in spreading information about the protests, such as Twitter accounts @euromaidan, @EuroMaydan and their English-language counterpart @EuroMaydan_eng. As events have progressed, those who manage these accounts stopped attaching relevant hashtags to every tweet, using them only occasionally.

Hromadske TV presented evidence of the beating of one of its reporters:

Hromadske journalist Dmytro Gnap, who was beaten in Mariinsky park DETAILS HERE: http://t.co/hbNpcHwZ41 pic.twitter.com/9ON1lqKq5y

Ukrainska Pravda shared useful information for injured protesters:

The protest participants that have been injured will be accepted by Kyiv Hospital no. 17, Kyiv Emergency Medical Care Hospital and Oleksandrivska Hospital.

— Українська правда (@ukrpravda_news) December 1, 2013

The English-language Euromaidan account relayed the latest traffic news:

In the meantime, some netizens have assembled lists of reliable sources of information and live streams of the events in an attempt to help members of the general public who may not be as web savvy or understand the events and development of the Euromaidan movement.

Foreign correspondents covering affairs in Ukraine, like Christopher Miller, the English-language editor of the Kyiv Post, or Mashable's Executive Director Jim Roberts, along with other local and international journalists, rarely add the internationalized #Euromaidan hashtag. Most often, they simply using the general hashtags #Ukraine or #Kiev in their tweets to localize the events that they are describing:

Nataliya Gumenyuk, a journalist with Hromadske TV, translated her Ukrainian tweet into English to spread information to foreign media:

Christopher Miller of the Kyiv Post combined the popular #Euromaidan hashtag with the more general location keywords:

Lately, it seems, protesters and those on the ground in Kyiv can't spare the time or space to include a hashtag. Events occur too quickly, unfold unpredictably, and valuable space and time for informing the public is paramount. Yet these behavioral trends in regards to hashtags mean that researchers aggregating data about protests who typically use related hashtags to follow the story are missing a lot of important content. Data gathered this way may distort the scope of the protests, their tone and message, possibly resulting in glaring omissions of key voices present in the civic and political activity around the protest.

Mainstream media most often still refer to the Euromaidan protests as pro-European Union and sometimes as anti-Russian, and they continuously focus on the politics of the protests, seemingly unaware that the sentiment among Ukrainian citizens today, in particular after the police brutality that began on the eightth day of protests, represents a battle for social equality, change in government and, as many protesters have stressed, a means of “taking back” their country. As user James Bray tweeted, using an entirely different and unrelated hashtag:

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