This story has been updated.
Late last month, Marie Harf, a deputy spokesperson at the State Department, took to the podium to announce a new social media campaign aimed at "mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine." The campaign, she explained, asks "the world to show their support for Ukraine on social media by using the hashtag ... #UnitedForUkraine."
With that, Harf kicked it off by tweeting a photograph promoting the hashtag:
So far, speaking with "one voice" hasn't done much to deter Russian aggression, even as part of a broader campaign to punish Moscow for its behavior. The United States and the European Union have slapped Russia with sanctions, but so far seemed to have little effect in deterring Moscow. Moreover, the U.S. officials and legislators have unanimously ruled out a military response to Russian aggression. So you'd be forgiven for considering the State Department's social media campaign to be a somewhat Quixotic, ephemeral even, effort at building a response to Russia's moves in Ukraine.
But this week, the social media has begun to backfire. The Russian Foreign Ministry has adopted the hashtag as its own and has been tagging its comments about Ukraine with the very same #UnitedForUkraine hashtag.
What the phrase "united for Ukraine" implies turns out to be a contested notion:
So on Thursday night, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, tried to fire back at her Russian counterparts. It didn't go well:
For anyone writing an early obituary of U.S. diplomatic efforts in Ukraine, here's your headline: "The Promise of Hashtag." The ease with which Russian diplomats have hijacked the banner under which sundry U.S. officials have been tweeting about Ukraine also speaks to the danger of using a slogan that essentially lacks content. What does it mean to be "united for Ukraine"? It certainly sounds good. Both words begin with a "u." And who doesn't like "unity"? But combing the two words with the preposition "for" doesn't add a great deal of meaning.
Then there's this: It's no small irony that the Russian Foreign Ministry managed to express itself in more coherent English than the State Department's chief spokesperson.
So here's another empty slogan for the State Department to consider: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
Update: Psaki was asked to comment Friday on her less than grammatical response to the Russian Foreign Ministry's appropriation of the State Department's hashtag. She had this to say:
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