Published 25 Feb. 2022 at 20:05
In addition to the rapid advance of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil since Thursday, there is also false information and social media manipulation. Forged TV banners, outdated fighter jet videos, or a stolen photo of a woman with a dummy rifle: infox will be pouring onto the platforms.
Just a few hours after Vladimir Putin’s speech announcing the start of hostilities, social networks around the world were flooded with all kinds of publications. Of course, there are also quite real scenes that were reported live by the journalists present on the spot or filmed by residents on the streets or in the Kiev metro, where many Ukrainians took refuge in the morning.
But there is also the proliferation of videos or photographs, widely circulated without sources or details, accompanied by sometimes laconic or alarmist comments on developments. “Urgent, Ukraine: Russian fighters and bombers fly over Ukrainian city,” a Facebook user wrote in the post at 7:36 am (French time) and was accompanied by a short 30-second video.
Viewed thousands of times over several hours and shared by numerous Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, this video shows fighter jets flying low over apartment buildings with the sound of a siren in the background. “Russian planes in the sky of Ukraine. The war in Europe has just begun…” comments the user who is streaming the video, without giving details about the origin of the video.
However, the latter has nothing to do with the current situation in Ukraine. A quick reverse image search on the Russian search engine Yandex turns up a longer video, released in 2020, showing a rehearsal of the May 9 “victory parade” held annually in Russia to commemorate the end of World War II.
This video, deliberately or mistakenly recycled and taken out of context, is far from an isolated case. It symbolizes one of the many facets of online disinformation. On Thursday, AFP review teams spotted more than a dozen viral posts. Among them is a video of nighttime rocket attacks allegedly taking place in Ukraine at night: in fact, they were rocket attacks from Gaza towards Israel in May 2021.
Even before the start of the Russian invasion, misinformation related to Ukraine was in full swing. In mid-February, a photo of a young woman on a bus with a machine gun in her hand and the only caption “Life in Ukraine at the moment” made the rounds on the web before being demystified as well. The photo was taken in 2020 and the weapon in question was a fake.
Almost at the same time, a tweet by TV presenter Jack Posobec went viral in the US. He aired a CNN banner: “Putin will delay invasion until Biden sends weapons to Ukraine so Russia can seize them,” which was in fact rigged.
This resurgence of fake news that can influence public opinion is not without cause for concern. On February 19, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, warned against “increasing efforts to manipulate information,” which he said was intended to serve as a fabricated pretext to justify a military escalation in Ukraine.
Meta and Twitter on deck
Faced with this epidemic of fake news, social media has taken several measures. On Thursday, the Meta opened a “special operations center” for Ukraine. This crisis unit is committed to detecting hateful, violent or manipulative material as quickly as possible. It employs specialists who speak Ukrainian and Russian. Facebook has also launched, as it did in Afghanistan in 2011, a one-click security feature to lock your profile.
For its part, Twitter, another epicenter of online information, has published a set of recommendations for the public as well as for journalists. One ” a thread was posted in English and Ukrainian with links to various best practice pages.
“When using Twitter in conflict zones or high-risk regions, it is important to know how to control your account and your digital information,” the official account says. Are these tools and guides capable of countering fake news?