Propaganda, fake Ukrainian invasion videos bombarding users

WASHINGTON (AP) — The messages, videos and photos circulating on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram far outnumber the airstrikes raining down on Ukraine.

They claim to show downed Russian warplanes or Ukrainians dodging for safety in their own homes.

Some are real and horrifying images of this war. Others had been hiding on the internet for years before Russia launched the biggest attack on a European country since World War II.

Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, second from left, and Davyd Arakhamia, faction leader of the Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian parliament, third from right, attend the peace talks in the Gomel region of Belarus on Monday, 28 February. 2022. (Sergei Kholodilin/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

The invasion of Ukraine is shaping up to be the first major armed conflict of the social media era in Europe, with the small screen of the smartphone the dominant communication tool, bringing with it the danger of a moment of dangerous, even deadly misinformation. .

TikTok videos, propaganda headlines and tweets playing on screens around the world are baffling millions of people about the reality of how this battle is unfolding on the ground.

On Telegram and Twitter, Russia’s attack on Ukraine was both “unprovoked” and “necessary”, according to the sender of the message.

“World prayers are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they come under an unprovoked and unwarranted attack by Russian military forces,” President Joe Biden tweeted to his 40 million followers on Wednesday evening.

Russian state media, however, echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments on all their platforms, with RT News telling hundreds of thousands of Telegram subscribers that the action was “necessary”.

Over the past few days, Putin and the Russian media have ramped up false accusations that Ukrainians are committing genocide and falsely labeling the majority of the country’s population as Nazis, said Bret Schafer, who leads the manipulation team at information at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Last week, for example, RT’s news director claimed on live television, without proof, that Ukrainians might start gassing their own people.

“You really saw this escalation of the narrative that Russia has to protect from this Nazi mob of genocidal Ukrainians,” Schafer said.

As Thursday wore on, the truth became even harder for the rest of the world to untangle from a series of hundreds of misleading tweets, deceptively edited videos and out-of-context photos that emerged after the initial shots were fired.

Sam Woolley, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, studies propaganda and is program director at the University of Texas Propaganda Laboratory.

“Russia is trying to use all kinds of attacks and tools in its toolbox to compromise different politicians, to make people look bad, to spread false information,” Woolley said. “They are doing this right now. That being said, one of the unique things that we see during this particular conflict is that President Joe Biden is actually anticipating some of the Russian disinformation and some of the intelligence that’s out there, so in a way, calling the bluff of Putin.

A clip, taken from a video game, has been viewed millions of times, with users falsely claiming it depicted real attacks. A video captured by the Associated Press in Libya more than a decade ago was relaunched on Facebook and Twitter on Thursday, with users saying it showed a Russian fighter jet crashing into gray skies after being shot down by Ukrainian forces.

A Ukrainian woman reacts after arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Since Russia launched its offensive on Ukraine, more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee the country to neighboring countries such as Romania, Poland, Hungary, Moldova and the Czech Republic – in what the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has said has “devastating humanitarian consequences” on civilians. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

And some TikTok users mistakenly believed they were watching a video of soldiers parachuting into Ukraine after a Russian account posted years-old footage as the Russian invasion was underway – it didn’t. didn’t stop the clip from racking up over 22 million views by the end of the day. .

People who see these videos, photos and complaints online are likely to watch them, share them and move on. However, there are ways to check whether what you are looking at is real or not.

“A great way to do this is to simply use Google’s reverse image search,” Woolley said. “You can tell if this image is really from a previous war or conflict. Other things people can do – they can make sure to double-check on sites like Snopes or with the Associated Press, or wherever because a lot of those groups do real-time fact-checking as well.

While some users are unwittingly spreading rumors in hopes of shaping perceptions of the invasion, others are betting on the idea that they can trick unwitting social media users into sharing the lies, according to John Silva, director principal of the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit that fights misinformation through education.

“We know disinformation is going to come out of the Russian government,” Silva said. “Then you also have trolls – people who just post things to see if they can fool people.”

People consume these misleading claims because they desperately need information, said Schafer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

“You have a huge surge in demand, a low supply of credible information, and a lot of sketchy information filling the void,” he added.

That vacuum widened on Thursday as internet blackouts occurred in several parts of Ukraine, making it even harder for people there to contact loved ones or follow the news.

A woman holds a sign during a rally in Times Square to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Saturday, February 26, 2022 in New York City. (AP Photo/Brittany Newman)

As a wave of people tried to access Telegram, a popular social media and messaging platform in Eastern Europe, the app experienced service outages, according to a post by Pavel Durov, the one of the founders of Telegram.

Major Russian websites, including major Kremlin and military sites, were also inaccessible or slow to load following what appeared to be a retaliatory attack. And US officials have accused Russia of disabling major government websites in Ukraine.

Widespread outages in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and the strategic port of Mariupol were recorded on Thursday, said Alp Toker, the founder of NetBlocks, a London-based company that monitors web outages and accessibility. to the Internet all over the world.

While some blackouts could be caused by shelling or airstrikes, others are part of an intentional effort by Russian forces to disrupt communications and sow panic, he said.

“Blow by blow, the human impact of being disconnected at a time like this is a terrifying experience,” he said. “It makes sense from a tactical point of view. We know it’s a strategy.

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