As the decades-old conflict over Nagorno Karabakh erupted again between Azerbaijan and Armenia earlier this month, a new social media battleground emerged as both parties compete for international sympathy, support and legitimacy. In this information war, it appears Armenia is a global superpower, with a nuclear arsenal of some of the world’s biggest social media influencers – including Kim Kardashian, her family and husband Kanye West, Dan Bilzerian and other high-profile Armenian diaspora. So how has this impacted the social media battle?
The majority of the conversations on Nagorno-Karabakh take place on Facebook, turning the platform into an important theatre of conflict. Over the last month, relevant conversations on Facebook generated over 14 million engagements, compared to just 749,000 on Twitter. There is also an interesting platform divide, with the most shared content on Facebook being pro-Armenian, whereas most of the trending posts on Twitter support Azerbaijan.
Unsurprisingly, Kim Kardashian’s post on the conflict was the most popular post about Nagorno-Karabakh on the platform, receiving over 200,000 engagements and Khloe Kardashian’s post ranked third, receiving over 90,000 engagements. Both directed followers to support the humanitarian effort in Nagorno Karabakh by donating to the US-based Armenia Fund.
Other Kardashian posts urged followers to sign a petition to the White House condemning Turkey and Azerbaijan, which received over 172,000 signatures – exceeding the 100,000 required to secure an official response. Another fundraising page for Armenia, promoted by influencers, received over 250,000 engagements and has raised almost $140 million.
While these calls to action clearly have an impact, almost all influencers who have shared an opinion regarding the conflict have faced significant backlash from social media users. Rapper Cardi B deleted her post in support of Armenia and apologised to fans, claiming she did it to help an Armenian friend, didn’t do her research and just wanted peace. Some influencers have been attacked by mistaken association; users mistook the Colombian flag on Penelope Cruz’s Instagram for an Armenian flag, triggering a slew of hateful and supportive comments from both sides.
Nagorno Karabakh is one of the first conflicts in which ‘mega-influencers’ have played such an active and vocal role. While their audiences may not be particularly relevant for influencing policy decisions in major capitals, they have undoubtedly been able to raise awareness and support among a large audience, acting as useful amplifiers for Armenia’s case. The Azeri’s side’s ability to muster a large number of accounts to attack influencers may dissuade a few from posting in support of Armenia, but it is unlikely to sway committed figures like the Kardashians.