The Limbik Deep Dive Series: The 'Ukraine Trafficking' Theme

Updated: Sep 2

As covered in previous Limbik Deep Dives, Russian justifications for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine have spanned the alleged Nazi ideology of Kyiv to the perpetration of genocide in Donbas against the Russian ethnic population. However, this Kremlin-propagated MDM is finding increasingly less resonance among U.S. adults as Russia continues to enlarge the geographic scope of its invasion and evidence of what amounts to crimes against humanity in Bucha make allegations of genocide duplicitous. Simultaneously, since the start of the war, alternative news media articles and social media posts have included a slew of other justifications for the war, notably the dismantling of human trafficking rings in Ukraine and the destruction of bioweapon manufacturing labs where the former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci purportedly was working on the next deadly virus.

Both of these alternative explanations were propagated at the start of the war specifically among QAnon adherents, New World Order conspiracy theorists, and anti-vax groups. Limbik began analyzing “Ukraine Trafficking'' as a theme at the start of the war. By opting to monitor it as a theme rather than a predefined narrative, Limbik has been able to capture the evolution of Ukraine trafficking-related MDM more broadly which has encompassed a variety of narrative iterations. Of note, throughout the monitoring period from March to August 2022, most trafficking-related MDM was highly conspiratorial in nature and suggested that Western countries and/or global elites are defending Ukraine to protect their human trafficking hub. Across more pro-Putin Telegram groups, Putin was credited with trying to dismantle the purported “Global Cabal” that was trafficking children in Ukraine.

Potential for Impact

Limbik has been evaluating the Potential for Impact (PFI) of the “Ukraine Trafficking’’ theme since March 2022. PFI is Limbik’s predictive metric that combines Virality and Believability to predict whether MDM will be considered believable or credible among U.S. adults and whether it will elicit engagement online (such as likes, comments, shares).

  • The average PFI, high theme PFI, and low theme PFI lines all refer to other MDM themes related to Ukraine Limbik is evaluating.

  • If the PFI for a particular narrative is greater than 100, this means the theme or narrative has a high likelihood of resonating with the U.S. population (and therefore poses a higher risk). If the PFI for a particular theme/narrative is less than 100, this means the theme/narrative has a lower likelihood of resonating with the U.S. population (and therefore poses a manageable risk).

  • “Ukraine Trafficking” has generally garnered a PFI greater than the average of all Ukraine-related MDM but has, like the average, decreased since the start of the invasion in early 2022.

  • Of interest, after an uptick in Foreign Influence at the beginning of June, a significant uptick in Potential for Impact was noted in mid-June. Although no conclusive evidence can point toward a coordinated Foreign Influence campaign driving PFI among U.S. adults, Limbik has found a correlation between FI and PFI for different Ukraine-related MDM themes.

Source(s): Twitter, Telegram, Facebook

Foreign Influence

The Foreign Influence model operationalized by Limbik represents the percentage of post volume for a particular MDM narrative or theme which can be attributed for accounts in foreign countries (outside the United States). Although an elevated level of Foreign Influence does not necessarily imply a coordinated foreign activity, Limbik has noted in the past that high Foreign Influence often corresponds with artifacts propagated by accounts with bot-like characteristics. FI for the “trafficking” theme has oscillated significantly over time and has decreased since the start of the invasion. Foreign post volume did not originate from one source in particular, but significant post volume originated from Ukraine, Russia, and Nigeria - the latter known to be utilized as a proxy for Russian efforts to deploy information operations with the purpose of influencing American opinions and enhancing polarization.

Rather than liberating trafficked children, Putin’s war has caused an enormous increase in trafficking of Ukrainian women and children who are especially vulnerable due to their status as refugees. Simultaneously, Putin’s forced displacement of Ukrainians to Russia, including unaccompanied children, has led Kyiv to accuse Moscow of coordinating illegal, mass adoptions of Ukrainian children. Not only the violent propensity of QAnon conspiracy theories, but their muddling of the information landscape has real effects on information accessible about real trafficking victims because of the war. It is now up to social media platforms, and the governments that should keep them accountable, to step up and create efficient, comprehensive, and global methods to remove human trafficking MDM.

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