Putin’s modern bazookas in our pockets

Putin’s modern bazookas in our pockets

Dies Natalis Master's Prize Winner: Anne-Sophie Oppor

16-04-2024 · Interview

It’s not just tanks and rockets, war is also waged through the media. But what exactly is meant by that? This is what the prize-winning master’s thesis of Anne-Sophie Oppor, alumna of the master’s ‘Media Studies: Digital Cultures’ is all about. “Propaganda was already spread over the radio during the world wars. Information warfare, that is the technical term, is thus nothing new in itself.” And yet war looks different in the 21st century: it is now, and increasingly so, also taking place on our smartphones. Oppor specifically looks at the Russian war with Ukraine, and here, Tiktok, X/Twitter and Telegram play the largest roles. “Russia is scaring people there, a lot of false information is being spread.” According to a study from 2022, for example, the Russian government used a total of 75 Twitter accounts to regularly question the sovereignty of Ukraine, draw attention to the war crimes of other countries and spread conspiracy theories, reaching millions of people.

Social media apps as Putin's modern bazookas – the topic increasingly fascinated Oppor. How does information warfare, as it is technically called, work exactly? Insider knowledge was needed. And who should be better informed than military experts? But how do you find them? Oppor was lucky, she says. “My supervisor is part of the Dutch military and is well connected. He suggested experts from the field to me as interview partners.” She was nervous looking at the interviews. “After all, these people know so much more about the topic than I do. I also had a guide prepared with questions in case I lost the thread. But in the end it was completely different than expected”, she says. “They were really chatty and friendly.” And had a lot to share. For example, that war via social media in comparison with television or leaflets has the advantage that one can aim quite specifically at individual target groups, as the algorithms preselect what a user sees – everyone lives in a ‘filter bubble’ after all. And it also comes handy, for autocracies like Russia, that the enemies often can’t fire back: according to an interviewed Colonel, democracies are by law not allowed to engage in information warfare in peace times. Eventually, this leads to the destabilisation of the democracy, as the military expert explains further.

After the interview part, it was time to write – a task that Oppor clearly underestimated. “It was very stressful. I just didn't know how to structure it." The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences-student lay awake every night, already making a plan in her head for the next day. “And then I worked through it until the to-do list was completely finished. Often until the late evening.” Discipline and willpower were rewarded: Oppor won the Dies Natalis Thesis Prize for her master’s thesis. “That happened after I had already won the prize for my bachelor’s thesis. I remember myself joking about it with my friends: ‘Watch out, I will win this one as well!’. It's funny when you think about the fact that I really wasn’t a good student in high school. Everyone around me, including myself, didn’t think I’d ever graduate from high school,” she laughs. Although having a master's degree and two thesis prizes under her belt, and in general being interested in academia, Oppor is not going to continue in the academic world for the time being. Instead, she takes off as a flight attendant in training at Swiss International Airlines. “I don’t want an office job right now. But let’s see, maybe in a few years I’ll feel like it.”

Thesis prizes

Every year during the Foundation Day celebrations, prizes are awarded to students who wrote the best bachelor’s and master’s theses. They receive a certificate and a cash prize of 500 euros. Observant interviewed eight of them. 

Author: Simon Wirtz

Illustration: Observant

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: thesis prize, dies natalis, Anne-Sophie Oppor, social media, modern warfare, instagram, putin, russia

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