How to spot fake news and misinformation about the war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine has reached a critical point at its one-year anniversary, with both sides showing no signs of backing down.
The battlefield is, however, proving to be virtual as well as between Russian and Ukrainian troops, with internet users being bombarded with truth and misinformation.
Accounts supportive of Kyiv, as well as Moscow, have been involved in sharing disinformation since Vladimir Putin-aligned troops invaded on February 24, 2022.
While Russia has introduced new laws punishing those deemed to discredit armed forces, the freedom of the net elsewhere has allowed for myths and facts to mix on social media.
But what misinformation is out there?
Five of the most viral false trends
• Unrelated explosions: Clips from blasts in Tianjin, China, and Beirut, Lebanon, have been used to falsely portray battle scenes.
• Claims the war is a hoax or false claims that Ukraine is a “Nazi state” that needs to be invaded.
• Deepfake videos of leaders: Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has appeared several times in front of camera and tricks of editing have been used to construct new videos - including one where he apparently tells his own county to lay down arms.
• Claims that Finland and Poland are being dragged into the war: Clips have circulated of Polish and Finnish armies gathering, with out-of-context or incorrect messages, including that they are preparing to invade Russia.
• False claims made about Ukrainian refugees using edited or out-of-context clips.
However, there are ways to check who to trust and how to do your due diligence when consuming online content.
Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine 2022-2023: One Year Later
How can I help avoid spreading fake news?
Information is being uploaded too fast for human moderators to handle so, while many posts go live sans warning, proceed with caution.
The virality of breaking news on the internet tempts immediacy in our reactions but it is vital to pause, read, and check before clicking retweet.
Is social media being fact-checked?
Twitter and Meta have ordered content from Russia Today and Sputnik to be labelled as “state-sponsored content” on their platforms, including Instagram.
Meta said: “We’re fighting the spread of misinformation on our apps, and putting more restrictions and transparency on state-controlled media outlets to help people know if what they see is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government.”
Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of security and safety, confirmed last year that the company will prioritise removing potentially false information about “crisis” events such as the war. “While this first iteration is focused on international armed conflict, starting with the war in Ukraine, we plan to update and expand the policy to include additional forms of crisis,” he said.
YouTube said it will block both news outlets, while Google has banned RT and Sputnik from their Play app store. On Wednesday (February 22), however, the Guardian reported that hundreds of RT videos found their way onto YouTube.
How do I check my sources?
Digging through threads on Twitter and Facebook to verify users can be time-consuming.
Instead, you can make a list of trusted sources and use news tools like Google News and Apple News to help sift through information.
On-the-ground reporters and vetted professionals can be a reliable source – but be sure to check their credentials by a blue tick or their previous work.
Google search names and organisations while remaining wary of new and unverified accounts with only a few followers.
Twitter is currently modifying its authentication process, which has seen fake or parody accounts being awarded a blue tick because the user has subscribed. The BBC took down a story about Will Ferrell after discovering a tweet the supposed US actor posted was not from him.
How do I spot fake images?
Visual media is often the first insight into new stories, and the spread of old videos and images resurfacing as new content can cause more perplexity in times of crisis.
An image of an airstrike from the video game War Thunder, falsely attributed to the Ukraine crisis, was viewed more than 300,000 times in one tweet.
This one shows the 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin, China. It's one of those 'zombie' videos that keep coming back, for example in 2020 - here's my report with @AFPFactCheck at the time:https://t.co/XNruBtcFst pic.twitter.com/ID8nNeKn4Q
— Esther Chan (@estherswchan) February 24, 2022
A “zombie video” of a 2015 chemical warehouse explosion in China has also resurfaced out of context multiple times, according to AFP Fact Check.
Spotting a fake image can be as easy as running a reverse image search.
Google Chrome and browser extension RevEye offer right-click options to reverse search images.
Search engines Yandex, TinEye, and Bing allow users to search by URL or upload images to see if they have been previously published online.
What’s the difference between misinformation and disinformation?
Misinformation is the sharing of false or inaccurate information while disinformation is added with bad intent.
The deliberately deceptive nature of the latter can be important to identify anecdotal tales, like the unverified Ukrainian war hero “Ghost of Kyiv” from Russian propaganda that is being used to justify war crimes.
Both should not be shared carelessly but one is more insidious.