Anything that can be news can be advertising, propaganda, PR, propaganda, manipulation, or fake. Modern technologies and modern access to information create new opportunities for the manipulation of consciousness. This is stated in the article of the European Center of Excellence in Countering Hybrid Threats.
What is disinformation?
It is a deliberate, often well-planned attempt to inform a person of false information for the purpose of manipulation, planting certain narratives and points of view; or distorted information intended to mislead people.
Oleksandr Zamkovoy, fact-checker of StopFake, a volunteer Internet project created in 2014 to expose false information about Ukraine and other countries, told us about the most common forms of information manipulation:
- Point of view or assessment is presented as a fact (although this is the personal opinion of the journalist/blogger).
- Only part of the information (half-truth) is presented in order to influence the audience’s point of view.
- Headings that do not correspond to the content of the text at all.
- The background in the materials contains manipulation and does not correspond to the essence of the news (may contain emotional evaluations).
- Engaged or paid «experts», experts representing only one side.
- False information, untrue facts.
- Information based on dubious or anonymous sources that cannot be verified (so-called «social media dump» from social networks, «scientists believe», etc.).
- Distorted or unreliable sociological research.
- Russian propaganda, which promotes the views, vision, and position of the Russian government, is used as an element of information warfare with other countries and Ukraine in particular (regarding the war, Crimea, Nazis in Ukraine, etc.).
What fakes do people fall for most easily?
«The easiest way for people to fall for photo/video fakes is information that contains some kind of visual confirmation. But, unfortunately, such confirmation can be distorted (edited, containing the wrong context). For example, the photo may not depict Ukrainian military personnel, it may be old or edited and not correspond to the content of the news, and it may be a staged photo. The same is the case with video — you can make an edit, use an old one, or simply shoot a staged one (which Russians often do).
For Russia, the information war is part of the general confrontation with the West, because they believe that by convincing the enemy of weakness and destroying trust in society, it is possible to win in a much easier way. Also, posts on social networks that allegedly tell «insiders» from the front, «personal stories» can often be spread by bots/trolls whose task is to polarize society, undermine trust in the authorities, and spread panic,» explains Oleksandr Zamkovoy, a StopFake fact checker.
How dangerous is misinformation?
Disinformation can be a tool of political influence and threatens to ignite social and political conflicts.
It can manipulate consciousness, undermines the moral and psychological state of the population, changes the behavioral and emotional state, and disorients.
During the Russian aggression in Ukraine, information became one of the fronts of the struggle.
So how to protect yourself and distinguish the truth from a fake?
After analyzing articles from the Australian University, New York University, the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany, and the StopFake project, we have singled out for you some basic tips on how to distinguish the truth from a fake
Keep calm and don’t be fooled by emotional posts
Fake news is often very emotional and dramatic because it targets emotions: it causes fear, shock, panic, etc. The more emotionally excited a person is, the more difficult it is for him to think rationally. Without analyzing the news, people start spreading it based on their emotions, thereby spreading both misinformation and panic. When the emotions pass, read the information again.
The Information Countermeasure Center gives an example of an emotional fake:
«WARNING!!! MAXIMUM REPOST!!! UAF HAS JUST FIRED LOZOVA WITH MORTARS. There are people killed, a small child is injured. God, what a horror!!! Look at these photos!!! How could you not check that there are people in the houses?»
Such news is usually shared by users on social networks, who are often not identifiable. They use emotional appeals, and capital letters to make people believe and start spreading, but the purpose of such messages is to sow panic and mistrust of the authorities.
Find out the source and check the author
Look at what website is providing you with the information. Check the domain and resource history. Also pay attention to the quality of the written text, whether there are no spelling mistakes or emotional appeals, and also pay attention to the clarity of the images. If you see a blur somewhere, this may signal a fake. If there are links in the material, they should also be checked. Check the author — for which media he still writes, and what materials. If there is an expert in the article, it is also worth checking.
For example, recently a fake version of the Ukrainian online web Obozrevatel appeared online. Visually, both sites looked identical, the only difference between them was that no new messages appeared on the fake site, as well as the address.
Russia Today [Russian state-controlled international news television network funded by the Russian government – ed.] once worked with an expert on international politics, Eric Draitser. However, he turned out to be a car insurance salesman.
With the help of language and spelling, Ukrainians were able to recognize a fake spread by Russian propagandists: it seems that Ukrainians are dissatisfied with power outages and launched a flash mob against the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and want to consume more electricity.
However, all the messages were actually written in Russian, it was translated into Ukrainian with a lot of mistakes that native speakers can see right away.
How common is this information?
Check that this information is provided by reputable, leading media outlets (for example The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, etc.) that specifically vet sources. If they do not have the news, it may be fake.
For example, Russian media spread information about «NATO military bases in Ukraine.» There is no similar information, for example, on the website of The Washington Post:
Check the image or photo
If you use the Google Chrome browser, you just need to click on the image with the right mouse button and select the option «Search with an image on Google», or insert the image into the search engine. There is also an option to install the Who stole my pictures plugin, which searches for photos on the web. That way, you can see the source—who shared the photo, when, and whether or not they added anything to the photo before adding it to the article.
Pay attention to the details yourself: street names, car license plates, etc.
For example, last year information appeared on the Internet that the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, was in Ukraine. As proof, various channels shared a photo of Kadyrov kneeling next to a machine gun. However, the Pulsar gas station can be seen in the background. This is a Russian network of gas stations that do not exist in Ukraine.
Check out the video
Checking the video is more difficult. If the video is inserted from YouTube — check the publication date and whether there are other videos on this topic. Maybe it’s just part of some big video. It is worth trying to find this video in other social networks by keywords. You can try to take a screenshot and search for this image on Google: there is a chance that some media has used this photo and you can get close to the original. Also, pay attention to the details of the video: license plates, street names, weather conditions — anything that can indicate a place and time, and match it with the information that the video is trying to convey to you.
For example, Internet users came across a «staged video» of the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of Russian aggression, in which the deceased begins to move behind the journalist.
In fact, this is a completely different plot, which has nothing to do with Ukraine: it is a report of the OE24 channel on demonstrations against climate policy in Vienna.
We wrote about this case in detail here.
Recommendations from the fact-checker of the StopFake project
«In order not to fall for fakes, it is necessary to monitor information hygiene. Do not take information from anonymous or unverified sources. When you read the news, check that it is clear where, when, how, under what circumstances, with whom it happened. If the news does not contain such information, then it is «rumor» or, at least, unconfirmed news. Always be interested in the original source of the news, where it comes from, whether it has been published by several other authoritative sources.
Don’t get carried away by emotional headlines and news. They may not correspond to reality. These are the so-called «clickbait headlines». They increase the degree of tension in society and make it less sensitive to real news because they turn the information space into a «show». Avoid materials that, instead of informing, draw conclusions for you.
In social networks, you should avoid communicating with accounts whose identities cannot be established. Check who left this comment or post before replying. It can be an internet troll or bot account. Usually, they mimic pseudo patriots or their page contains no content (no photo, no posts, only reposts, no personal information, no friends, page closed for viewing, etc.). Ignore comments that very emotionally tell their «own stories» and expose someone.»
Online resources about fakes: a selection from The Ukrainian Review
Ukrainian volunteer internet project, created in 2014 to expose false information. Debunks fakes about Ukraine and other countries. The site is translated into 16 languages.
International Fact-checking Network
International fact-checking network created at the Poynter Institute in 2015. It unites about 100 organizations from 50 countries of the world. One of the main conditions of the participants is that the editorial activity should not be under state or political control and/or influence.
A European digital media observatory that brings together fact-checkers, media literacy experts and academic researchers to understand and analyze disinformation in collaboration with media organizations, online platforms and media literacy experts.
The more information society, the more dependent on information it becomes, and therefore more vulnerable to information warfare. In a difficult period, it is especially important to observe information hygiene and evaluate information with a cool head.