The Good, The Bad and the Oppressed: Visual Framing the conflict in Ukraine on Instagram – BBC News, Ria Novosti & Ukrinform

Speaker 2023

The digital world, mainly social media, significantly influences our minds and beliefs, especially in the context of conflicts and wars. Therefore, it is crucial to evaluate the impact of social media as an online mechanism on freedom of choice and decision-making. This research investigates how Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is visually framed on Instagram, analyzing 720 still images posted by 3 news agencies – BBC News, Ria Novosti, and Ukrinform – on their official accounts between February 24 and April 24, 2022.

Using a digital humanities approach, the study conducts a visual content analysis to identify recurring visual frames (thematic categories) modelled on the analysis grid presented by Makhortykh and Sydorova (2017, p. 365) for their study on the visual framing of the 2014 Ukrainian conflict. The following categories were selected: (1) “battle images”; (2) “animals”; (3) “civilians”, (4) “combatants”; (5) “officials”, (6) “military equipment”, (7) “landscape”, (8) “ruins”, (9) “symbols”. The results will be used to create visual representations to help identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent from raw data. According to Goffman (1974/1986), frames are “schemata of interpretation” (p. 21) that assign “meaning to an unfolding strip of events” (Gamson and Modigliani, 1987, p. 143). Also, frames have the potential to shape the information that individuals are exposed to and how that information is presented, ultimately impacting their beliefs and attitudes. 

The study aims to answer three research questions: (1) What are the main categories encountered? (2) What differences in framing the conflict can be detected between the 3 agencies? (3) How do visitors interact with the posts, and which thematic categories in the frames attract the most attention?

The analysis will consider the frames in the first image and those in the rest of the photos (if there is a carousel post). The focus will be on the first image’s news frames to test correlation with comments and likes using statistical tests. The use of visual content analysis can reveal how news agencies frame the conflict in ways that may influence public opinion and how this relates to broader issues of misinformation and filter bubbles in the online world. For instance, if Ria Novosti features a high recurrence of frames with hurt Russian civilians, it may encourage individuals to believe that Russia is the victim, generating epistemic harm via misinformation and public opinion manipulation. 

The research intends to discuss practical solutions to mitigate the harms caused by online mechanisms by using digital humanities methods and reflecting on visual framing in hybrid warfare. In addition, the results can be used to design interventions that help people critically evaluate the information they encounter online and can provide recommendations to prevent filter bubbles.


Reynolds, A. (Ed.). (2016). Social Media as a tool of hybrid warfare. NATO strategic communications centre of excellence. 

Makhortykh, M. Sydorova, M. (2017). Social media and visual framing of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Media, War & Conflict 10(3) 359–381, DOI: 10.1177/1750635217702539.

Gamson, W., Modigliani, A. 1987. The Changing Culture of Affirmative Action. In Richard Braungart (Ed.) Research in Political Sociology (pp. 137–177). Jai Press.

Goffman, E. (1986). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience (2nd ed.). Harper & Row. (Original work published 1974).


Gheorghe Anghel

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