The Sift: Ukraine special issue: Three tips for fighting falsehoods

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Fighting falsehoods about Ukraine

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the war has created an overwhelmingly chaotic information environment, one that even the savviest and most dedicated misinformation experts sometimes struggle to navigate. Credible information can get lost amid bogus posts on many social media feeds, creating a jumble of contradiction and confusion. Authentic photos of horrific civilian casualties, and of bombed apartment buildings, schools and hospitals, are interspersed with out-of-context footage from previous military actions, movies and video games. Posts celebrating Ukrainian bravery, patriotism and odds-defying counterattacks are likewise mixed in with out-of-context visuals and fabricated stories. It’s a dizzying combination of accurate information, tactical disinformation, trolling, engagement bait and even misinformation meant to inspire those who support Ukraine.

Here are three tips to help you stay focused on facts as the invasion of Ukraine stretches into its second month.
Be mindful of Russian disinformation tactics. While we usually can’t know for certain if a post or comment online is from a Russian agent or a paid troll, we can learn to spot common Russian disinformation tactics and narratives. We should also recognize the complexities introduced by new propaganda tactics, such as the fabrication and disingenuous “debunking” of pro-Ukrainian “fakes” by the Russians — a scheme to cast doubt on authentic posts and weaponize the ethos of fact-checking.
Don’t fall for conspiracy theory narratives. Conspiracy theory communities often adapt their beliefs to fit new developments in the world, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. In this case, however, conspiracy believers are also falling victim to Russian disinformation narratives, such as the baseless claim that the United States is supporting the development of bioweapons in Ukraine or the absurd notion that the conflict is being staged by actors. (The parallels here to COVID-19 conspiracy movements, such as the #FilmYourHospital effort, are unmistakable.)
Sharing misinformation in “support” of Ukraine helps the Russian propaganda effort. While it may be tempting to like and share social media posts showing supposed Ukrainian victories, inspiring vignettes and other hopeful messages, the prevalence of falsehoods regarding the conflict fuels Russian and conspiratorial claims that the war is being exaggerated or faked in some way. Moments like these are a good time to pull back from social media posts by unknown individuals — and other forms of user-generated content — and wait for verification before you share.
As the world continues to watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfold — in many cases, on social media — it’s vital that we don’t add to the fog of confusion created by misinformation to obscure the atrocities being committed on the ground. We all have a responsibility to join the fight against falsehoods by learning to recognize them, report them to platform moderators and warn others away from them.

classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Use this reading guide with NLP’s In Brief: Misinformation to help students determine what misinformation is, why people share it and how to defend against it.

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.