Raised by Kyiv, “Internet Army” pressures Western companies to continue operations in Russia

A message addressed to Johnson & Johnson appeared on Twitter last month, accusing it of continuing its activities in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

“Stop cooperating with the aggressor country. Take a stand, leave the Russian market, “tweeted @ AnnDmi3 on March 11, calling on the pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant.

It was not an isolated tweet. This message was part of a pressure campaign on social media, coordinated by the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. He has raised what he calls his army of the Internet: a group of volunteers who help Ukraine fight the cyber war and the information war, and which includes a large number of activists who post on social media in order to point the finger at Western companies that continue their business. in Russia, says Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation.

Some 300,000 people have joined the ranks of this “army”. His posts on social media reach about 100 million people worldwide every day, Fedorov said in an interview. In recent days, the group has turned its attention to foreign government officials asking them to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine, he said.

The ministry is asking volunteers to put pressure on several dozen large Western companies and offers them sample language for their social media posts through a channel in the Telegram messaging app, according to an account. The Wall Street Journal.

Sometimes the Internet army challenges influential people in the hope of mobilizing them to advance the Ukrainian cause. Prominent media personalities have been targeted

Johnson & Johnson announced on March 29 to suspend sales of its hygiene and care products in Russia, but to continue marketing drugs and medical devices there. The company declined to comment further.

McDonald’s, another company targeted by the ministry, said last month that it would temporarily close its restaurants in Russia. Many other companies targeted by this campaign have suspended or shut down their local operations since the invasion of Ukraine. The reasons given for this move range from the difficulty of maintaining its operations after the sanctions to concerns for the safety of its staff.

None of the target companies of these militant posts mention that the pressure on social media has been involved in motivating their decision.

The French supermarket giant Auchan, present in many European countries, has recently been the target of this Internet army.

“@AUCHAN_France is one of the companies that most consistently and inflexibly refuses to leave Russia. This weekend I encourage you to go to the nearest Auchan store for a demonstration. If you can’t do it, if you Please don’t buy any more groceries there, “tweeted Artem Stelmachov, a Twitter user living in Kyiv on April 9.

A spokesman for Auchan declined to comment. Auchan told him Wall Street Journal that despite opposition to the Ukrainian war, the company believed it was doing its job to ensure access to food for the Russian population.

Other companies attacked by Internet military volunteers have argued that they have good reason to continue certain operations in Russia, in particular to supply basic necessities or medicines and to carry out humanitarian activities.

British oil giant Shell said on March 8 it would leave oil and gas operations in Russia for humanitarian reasons. A spokesman for the major said that this decision was not influenced by the posts on social media.

Sometimes the Internet army challenges influential people in the hope of mobilizing them to advance the Ukrainian cause. Prominent media personalities have been targeted; including Reuters editor Alessandra Galloni, Matt Murray, editor of the Wall Street Journalthe of New York NewsDean Baquet, editor of the Los Angeles TimesKevin Merida and the editor-in-chief of USA TodayNicole Carroll, based especially on the idea that they could reject ads from companies that have maintained activities in Russia.

Reuters says it has nothing to do with this campaign. the New York News he says he is not involved in organized boycotts. USA Today explains the commitment to report on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times refused to comment.

“Cutting off all ties with Russia and cutting off all funding is the only way to help stop the atrocious war that Moscow has launched against the Ukrainian people.”

Because volunteers often use the same text and images, their activity can sometimes involve the work of automatic “bots.” But the Internet military does not use robots, according to one participant.

This campaign is not the only attempt to use the power of social media to entice companies to sever ties with Russia by embarrassing them. The boycott in Russia, a movement initiated by the UK-based consultancy Highgate, is one of many militant associations working in this direction. Others include UA Telegram Army, Squeezing Putin and Exit Russia.

“Breaking all ties with Russia and cutting all funding is the only way to help stop the atrocious war that Moscow has launched against the Ukrainian people,” said Valeriya Melnichuk, vice president of Highgate and one of the founders of the boycott Russia. Ms. Melnichuk is Ukrainian and lives in London.

The boycott in Russia began to gain momentum on March 1 when Wladimir Klitschko, a former Ukrainian professional boxer, tweeted to his 791,000 followers: “Stop funding Putin’s war. By buying Russian products, doing business with Russia, you are investing in the terrible war against the Ukrainian people. “

Boycott’s Twitter account in Russia has more than 4,500 followers. His Instagram page, which hangs posters criticizing these companies, has more than 11,000 subscribers.

Leaders of the association include Natalie Jaresko, a US-born Ukrainian, Minister of Finance in Ukraine from 2014 to 2016, and Dmytro Dubilet, former Minister of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Boycott Russia claims to have recruited some 7,000 volunteers from around the world to help carry out its campaign.

On March 23, Boycott in Russia tweeted a critical message that Nestlé would continue to sell products in Russia, even though the company had already withdrawn some brands from the country, such as KitKat and Nesquik. “Continuing to fund war criminals is damaging your reputation,” read the tweet, which challenged the company.

Nestlé declined to comment. On March 29, the company announced that it would reduce its supply in Russia and stop selling pet food, coffee and sweets there. He also said that he would continue to provide basic necessities, such as baby food and hospital supplies.

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

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