Russian state-owned media is pushing a narrative of a neo-fascist takeover in Ukraine that has led to spiraling violence in the former Soviet client state.
Supporters of a western-looking Ukraine are fighting back through social media, using posts on YouTube and Instagram to describe a different reality on the ground.
A perfect example is an image on Instagram that gained widespread viewership on Russian TV showing a man taking down the Ukranian flag and raising a Russian flag over a building in the Crimean city of Simferopol. He was portrayed as a Ukranian loyal to Russia.
Ukranians tracked down the man through his social media site, found out he actually lives in Moscow and circulated the information as proof of a Russian invasion.
Not long ago, state-owned media was an effective tool to control the narrative of historical events and economic progress within a country's boundaries. But the digital age and social media have punctured a huge hole in that balloon.
Efforts to portray Ukrainians as sudden converts to fascism, which still kindles dark, agonizing memories for Russians who faced the advancing armies of Hitler, may not be completely convincing. After all, President Vladimir Putin's government offered $15 billion in financial aid to Ukraine just a few months ago. State TV may talk as if Viktor Yanukovych was deposed in an "unconstitutional coup," but social media is ablaze with pictures of Yanukovych's extravagant mansion and charges of large-scale national theft.
Dueling propaganda has always been a dimension of conflict. The advent of social media, however, has changed the balance of power in the war of words. All you need is a smartphone and Internet access and you can compete with a regime-backed network of TV stations and newspapers.
The Arab spring was ignited by social media chatter and wound up toppling tyrants with a firm grip on official news.
Russia under Putin doesn't have the same lock on information, but is trying to advance a storyline that mashes together fear of a former loathsome enemy and the dream of a grander future.