Deploying a similar tactic to raise awareness, Lithuanian influencer Agne Kulitaite, whose account boasts 88,600 followers, has been encouraging her Instagram and Facebook followers to purchase Tinder Gold, or download Badoo – the most popular dating app in Russia. Badoo and Tinder’s premium service allow users to change their location to Russia and Agne suggests her followers use the apps to educate Russian matches about the realities of the war in Ukraine.
Ugne Pleseviciute, a sales manager at a Lithuanian telecommunications company, was also motivated by Agne’s post, and she initially set her Tinder account to a small Russian town
“ Not everyone in Russia is aware of the actual facts. We live in a world of propaganda, so let’s help humanity by spreading the truth,” wrote Agn e in an Instagram post. “Let’s use our beautiful dating app profiles in an informative way too! Help spread the facts and educate the Russian people of the current atrocities in Ukraine.”
The idea caught on with some of Agne’s followers. Evelina Dulkyte, who works in financial services in Vilnius, explains that she took to Tinder because of a feeling of powerlessness and a desperate desire to do something. One of the pictures Evelina uploaded on her profile showed her lying on a beach, with her chest covered by a Ukrainian flag. “I believe that with some support, Russians will take to the streets,” she says. Evelina’s profile bio included an impassioned plea, written in Russian, for people to go out and oppose the war.
“One [Russian] guy was clearly very upset about what’s happening. He sent me a four-minute voice message saying that people are just meat to Putin and it’s pointless to go out and protest, because people’s opinions don’t matter to [Putin],” she says. Others matches have been far more hostile, directing xenophobics slurs and pro-Russia messages at Evelina.
Her messages encouraging people to take to the streets were met with a escort service Scottsdale variety of responses. One of her matches responded: “I will be at the rally on Friday. Glory to Ukraine!! No war!! No to Putin!!”. Another match condemned the war but explained that living in a small town made it very unsafe to protest. He suggested Ugne might have more luck messaging people in bigger cities.
This, paired with media censorship, means that it’s difficult to jumpstart the type of mass movement that can influence change. “If you have thousands of people saying on Facebook that they will go out to protest and you then see the physical materialisation of thousands of people, you feel emboldened to put your life on the line,” says Athina.
The extreme consequences of protesting against the war in Russia is one of the reasons Athina is sceptical about the transformative potential of Tinder initiatives
Athina believes that we need to interrogate the way social media encourages influencers like Agne to compete for eyeballs by posting subversive or controversial content such as the Tinder initiative. “There is a very melodramatic, sensational element to this,” Athina says. “It’s about creating excitement in your feed but the issue is that usually, besides increasing your reputational capital, you don’t achieve anything. But the influencers – they do get something out of it.”
Instead, Athina believes that digital mobilisation campaigns are more successful when they have a clear aim and purpose. Giving the examples of humanitarian efforts to support people fleeing Ukraine and the #AfricansInUkraine campaign, she urges digital activists to also build on-the-ground networks that can sustain internet movements past a viral moment.