Like most of you, I’ve spent the past week riveted to the TV and to social media, following the war on Ukraine.
For me, the war touches me on many levels. I actually started my working life, after university, in what was then post-Soviet cultural diplomacy, mainly dealing with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and my undergraduate degree was preparation for what I thought would be a foreign service career in Russia and Eastern Europe. (Real life, and the internet, got in the way.)
On top of that, despite being an ex-American Scot, my ethnic composition is 25% Ukrainian and 25% Polish, and I grew up with those cultural influences in my brain and in my belly (yum).
So this course of events is especially surreal for me, as I see my entire life flash before my eyes.
This war is being waged as much online as it is on the streets. All of the issues we’ve been discussing, as theoretical, for years, are now playing out in real-time: issues like state-backed disinformation and counter-disinformation, fake journalists, the use of civilian metadata (such as Google traffic) to identify movements; the use of social media to document the incursion; the use of international protocols to document digital evidence of human rights violations and war crimes; the use of encrypted messaging apps for friends and family to keep in contact; the throttling of platforms within Russia; the censorship of platforms within Russia; the blocking of Russian state media outside Russia, with expected retaliation for channels aimed at Russia; and discussions of potential shutdowns of platforms altogether, decapitating governments but taking down civil society and personal discourse with it.
There have been more than a few “I told you so” moments for me, as well, as the Russian government carries out actions regarding digital, online, and platforms which directly mirror some of the more dystopian wishes of the UK government in its own online regulation strategy, doing exactly what I’ve said their plans would give them the power to do, to the most vulnerable at the worst time in their lives.
It would be very easy to crow over those “I told you so” moments, or to blog about it personally, or to cite these issues as the evidence why we need to hold the line on our domestic internet regulation front.
However, personally and professionally, this is not the time for that, for me or you or anyone.
Because my Polish-Ukrainian single mama didn’t put me through a undergraduate degree to train for a career in public diplomacy, while she was dying of motor neurone disease and living on disability benefits, to see me become One Of Those People Who Does That.
(Polish and Ukrainian mothers are all heroes.)
Nor did I spend some of the best years of my life working in international cultural diplomacy, bringing people together across post-Soviet borders and oceans, to exploit them for very different domestic professional ends 25 years later.
And in all honesty, I have no tolerance right now for People Who Do That at this moment in time, regardless of what side of any advocacy debate they’re on.
In fact, if you Do That, I’m going to remember you, and I’m going to remember who and what you are, and I’m going to store that information in the part of my brain that is currently channeling the wrath of a dozen generations of Ukrainian and Polish outrage, and that is not a part of my brain you want to find yourself in.
tl’dr there will be a time and place to Do That, but it isn’t now.
When it is, I will fight that battle, for the people who need it. I always do.
Because it’s in my blood.
Слава Україні. Chwała Ukrainie.
Header image: a wooden ceremonial mace given to me, as a diplomatic gift, by a Ukrainian parliamentary delegation, back in my DC cultural diplomacy days. Part folk art, part tradition, part symbol of democracy, part brute force weapon if I need it. Objects don’t get more singularly perfect than that.