Aleksandra Rydzkowska profile

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Aleksandra Rydzkowska

Royal Holloway University of London (2023)


Prof. Olga Goriunova


Elves vs Trolls in Ukraine’s War - Fighting Disinformation with Interactive Documentary


The beginning of the Ukrainian crisis dates back to 2014 when Russia formally annexed Crimea on the 21st of March (Grant, 2015). At that point, the Russian information warfare campaign was already in an advanced phase, spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda and accusing the Ukrainian government of Nazism and Fascism. Proof of experiments with military action in cyberspace date back to the 1990s (Buchanan, 2017). However, under Putin’s presidency, Russia became one of the most prolific state actors in cyberwar operations (Aro, 2021).

With the number of trolls constantly on the rise, it was just a matter of time before a fightback began. Cyberactivism is a form of activism in cyberspace core to the development of the web (Levy, 1984), popularised by hacktivists from Anonymous (Coleman, 2014). Another group of cyberwarriors is at the centre of this research. Cyber Elves were founded by less than 20 co-founders in Lithuania in 2014, in response to the Ukraine crisis, and quickly grew to form legions in other CEE countries. As opposed to Anonymous, Elves operate within the scope of the law. They consist of three operating subgroups: Cyber Scouts investigating and analysing content on social media; the legal department of Elves in Suits; and Memetic Warriors, creators of memes - one of the most potent weapons against a numerically superior force of Kremlin trolls (Klečková, 2022).

The proposed study will develop an experimental form of the interactive documentary (i-doc, a synergy between a game and a documentary film) to explore the rise and struggle against disinformation. Through producing a web-based application dedicated to the fight between Putin’s trolls and Cyber Elves in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, it will examine the role of the i-doc in the information war, and the technical affordances of narrative artistic interventions in their capacity to elicit change.