War tourists are fighting Russians in Ukraine – but the new front has moved online, reveals a new study. The phenomenon of tourists traveling to past and present war zones has moved to laptops and mobiles, say scientists.
The focus of the study, Reddit forum “Volunteers for Ukraine” was set up on February 24 last year, a day after Russia invaded Ukraine. After just two weeks it amassed 44,500 members. Users attempt to counter misinformation, fundraise and raise awareness of war zones online.
Study lead author Dr. Nigel Williams, from the University’s Faculty of Business and Law, obtained more than 20,000 posts from the Volunteers for Ukraine subreddit shared during the first month of conflict. He revealed participants were “combating non-military hybrid warfare tactics” including countering propaganda. Fake news and Russian trolls were challenged, money was donated, and information was sent to Ukrainian refugees.
The researcher warned users can be at risk of radicalization on public forums such as Reddit, partly because they could be unwittingly speaking to Russian agents or Ukrainian soldiers.
“War tourism has a long history, with travelers visiting battlefields, memorials, museums, prison camps or current war zones. In the past, we’ve seen war tourists who want to go and fight in wars, those who want to volunteer as humanitarians and then those who are voyeuristic thrill-seekers. But what we’re seeing now is an emerging trend for war tourists to be involved virtually, by countering misinformation, providing funding and raising awareness from the comfort of their own homes. The presence of hybrid war activities, such as campaigning for sanctions’ enforcement on social media, has lowered the barrier to observation and participation,” said Dr. Williams.
War tourism was studied on Reddit. “Social media, media activity, sanctions and fundraising are all part of modern warfare, which means wars are no longer about face-to-face contact or bound by geography. Our findings show that combating hybrid warfare has expanded to an online domain, where people can shape perceptions and mobilize resources.” said Dr.Williams.
The paper, published in The Journal of Travel Research, highlights the complex dynamic between war tourism, volunteering, voyeurism and the impact of it moving online. “Public forums like Reddit can put people at risk of becoming radicalized. You don’t know who you’re really talking to online – could it be a Russian agent or a Ukrainian soldier? Future research should aim at a deeper understanding of these concepts and the complex links between them,” added Dr. Williams.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
(Additional reporting provided by Talker News)
Edited by Eunice Anyango Oyule and Judy J. Rotich
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