Self-organised NAFO movement appeared some time in spring of 2022. Since its inception NAFO has played a major role in Ukrainian information warfare and fundraising efforts.
I was attracted to this movement instantly, not only because of the cause, but mainly because of the methods NAFO members use in their “fight”: wittiness, humour, and incredible community spirit.
NAFO movement unified all kinds of people, from all over the world, in their desire to be on the right side of history and skilled with soft power of humour and memes to disarm less intellectually sophisticated Russia funded trolls.
NAFO style phenomenon is not new. NAFO is operated by a similar template as Anonymous. Just like NAFO, Anonymous has been created to tackle pro-Syrian regime propaganda, effectively the Russian type of repetitious conspiratory nonsense.
Anonymous has originated out of 4chan, where every user is anonymous. Thus, the name and the usage of Guy Fawkes masks. Just like Anonymous, Twitter-born NAFO members tend to be anonymous and show their adherence to the movement by using the avatar, in NAFO case – a Shiba Inu dog.
Both Anonymous and NAFO are the examples of self-organising content policing cartels.
The reason for their creation lies in the very nature of social media networks:
aimed at monetisation, social media is not only unprotected from hate speech and harassment, – it is ideally suited for the promotion and monetisation of hateful content and conspiracy theories.
The problem of Twitter compared to 4chan is the fact that most of its members are publicly available people, and the instances of hatred and harassment can be much more dangerous. In the absence of effective content moderation policy on social networks, especially in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition, the need for quick reaction to the malicious, misinformation-spreading agents is especially poignant for the well-being and safety of the Internet community.
Battling a serious adversary in the face of deadly dictatorial regimes, the choice of anonymity for both Anonymous and NAFO is understandable. It must be noted, however, that many public figures have also openly identified with NAFO, which lands further credibility to the values and integrity of the idea.
The more effective, unified, and successful the movement is, – the faster it gets infiltrated by rogue members.
NAFO has not been an exception. Both individuals and organisations are hurriedly removing NAFO avatars from their profile pictures and try to break ties with the movement. In this article I will provide the biggest threats to the NAFO spirit, some – by an orchestrated enemy infiltration, some – by the opportunists taking advantage of the crisis and people’s desire to help.
Threat # 1: Financial Scammers
One of NAFO’s key goals is fundraising for the needs of the Ukrainian Army and foreign legions, most notably – the Georgian Legion.
Often, however, people are creating uncoordinated fundraising campaigns, which have nothing to do with the official Ukrainian government-approved initiatives.
In many cases those individual efforts might be much more efficient in tackling a specific cause, where the fundraiser is on the ground, directly involved with the case, and can make sure the funds are being used for the cause as opposed to funding layers of unnecessary bureaucracy, like in the case of the Red Cross.
Unfortunately, this also means a percentage of malicious actors who are pretending to be a Ukrainian on the ground, sending money to a made-up cause or creating elaborate schemes to embezzle the money donated by people in a heartfelt effort to help the war-ridden country.
Such people usually use complex psychological techniques to connect with their audience, – using nudes, going into protruded self-pity campaigns, sharing made-up stories of being “on the ground” or any other types of manipulation aimed at making their followers feel sorry for them.
Obviously, discovering that a person you looked up was simply using your good intentions for their personal economic benefit is detrimental to the movement and to people who are genuinely dedicating their time and money to help the victims of Russian aggression.
Unfortunately, there are much more high-profile cases than those. They are currently being investigated by Ukrainian, British, and American authorities. I will not be giving any unconfirmed details, but I am sure time will put everything in its place.
In the meantime, it is worth remembering that rogue actors are always attracted to good causes, and their existence is an unfortunate by-product of success, rather than a systemic fault of the movement itself.
Threat # 2: “Raving Nationalists“
While NAFO has been specifically created as a movement to tackle Russian propaganda, it is important to note that some members of the movement seem to have been carried away into the dark lands of ethnic hatred and violence excitement against ethnic Russians or Russian speakers, – something that has never been the goal of the NAFO movement.
A worrying thing for the movement is the exploitation of NAFO shield to push outrageously racist memes and comments comparing Russians to animals, Neandertals and “lower caste” human beings purely based on their looks or ethnicity as opposed to their political or social views.
“Raving Nationalists” NAFO members are known for urging for a complete discrimination of the Russian speakers and an absolute eradication of the Russian culture and nation, landing a helpful hand to the Kremlin propaganda justifying the ongoing genocide in Ukraine by the alleged discrimination of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
It is worth noting that no real Ukrainian patriot is interested in discriminating people based on their ethnicity or language. Equally, nowhere in Ukraine people were or are being discriminated for the language they use to communicate among themselves. Ethnic cleansing, genocides and discriminations against national minorities were historically used solely by Russia.
I remember my trips to Lviv, where the jokes about “Moskali” have always constituted a part of the local folklore. Despite all the banter, Lviv has always been a city welcoming to various ethnicities, including the Russian speakers, even people coming from Moscow. The warm and open-minded sentiment of Ukrainian people has been understandably changed after 2014. Nevertheless, the only people trying to portray Ukrainians as “raving nationalists”, or “neo-Nazis”, are Kremlin-funded agents, trying to prevent Ukraine joining the EU.
In this context it is worth giving an illustration of the same scenario in Ukrainian politics: an infamous Svoboda party, an ultranationalist political union which has been founded in Ukraine in 2004, and used skinheads, neo-Nazi symbols, and antisemitic rhetoric to push its message. Several scholars and journalists have later uncovered the links between this party and Kremlin, which has been consistently funding the far-right movements in Ukraine, hoping to find the pre-text for the “liberation” of Ukraine from “Nazis”.
Funny enough, far-right parties in Ukraine have never gained any serious momentum, leaving all Kremlin efforts’ high and dry. What’s even funnier is the timing of Russia’s 2022 invasion, with the current Ukrainian President being a native Russian speaker of Jewish origin.
Russia has failed so miserably in its efforts to find or cultivate real “Ukrainian Nazis” that it is now left with nothing but online neo-Nazi bots and ridiculous conspiracy theories around the current Ukrainian President.
Threat # 3: Perfectionism Seekers
Huge resonance of the Ukrainian cause is as understandable as it is unprecedented. Wars happen all over the world on a different scale and for various horrible reasons. No one is perfect and no one’s country is a spotless example to follow. No nation deserves to suffer from devastation or genocide, whether it is caused by russia or other geopolitical actors. Movements for Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen are strong, but none can compare to the unprecedented support people from all over the world give to Ukraine.
Coming from a geopolitical background, I have a huge problem with how and why NATO and the US allowed this war to happen in the first place and did not exert enough pressure on Putin, like China did when they saved Kazakhstan from a failed “liberation” attempt in December of 2021.
Finding ourselves where we are, however, it is paramount to use all available support and advocacy to unite people around Ukraine and make them feel welcome and appreciated for what they are doing for the sake of freedom and democracy, which Ukraine today happens to symbolise for the whole world.
Whenever someone is attacking a person supporting Ukraine saying their country is not doing enough or this person does not understand all the complexities of the Ukrainian case, it is important to step back and realise one simple thing:
No one is obliged to support anyone else. No one is obliged to support Ukraine or the people of Iran, Syria, or Palestine. People dedicate their own time and efforts to do so because they believe in the cause
Just like most Ukrainians are mostly in the dark about the intricacies of British internal politics, most Brits or Americans have little understanding about the particularities of Ukrainian internal politics, the debate around “good Russians” or even the appreciation of the scale of Russian fascism, which spills far and wide beyond the Kremlin walls.
NAFO is the movement aimed at tackling Russian propaganda and educating people around the world what is going on in Ukraine. Its aim is giving more people the voice and momentum in fighting on the side of the Good. It is not a movement where some of its members are supposed to harass others for the “insufficient support” or “lack of understanding”.
I am not sure where NAFO goes from here, but one thing is certain:
NAFO has united numerous people of high integrity, ingenuity, and determination. Whatever happens to the movement itself, the people adhering to the NAFO values of freedom, democracy, and tolerance, are here to stay. The connections made in the virtual world under the funky Shiba Inu avatar will remain for years and lead to more initiatives and campaigns, – for Ukraine as well as for any other nation in need.