Be Wary of Wartime Fake News Spread via Social Media
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are bombarded with information of all types. Some information is truthful and informative, but a large portion of the information posted on social media sites like Facebook and TikTok are part of intentional disinformation campaigns to sway the perception of the invasion and elicit responses from the public – both good and bad.
What is Disinformation?
Disinformation is intentionally false information that is spread with the goal of deceiving the target. It is considered a subset of what most just call “propaganda” and has been part of war for as long as wars have existed. While the term “disinformation” didn’t enter the English dictionary until the mid-1900s, the use of it can be seen dating as far back as Genghis Khan spreading rumors that exaggerated the size of his army before attacking an area in an effort to lower the morale of his opposition and cause panic.
In more modern times, disinformation campaigns are much more complex and are being propagated via social media platforms which allow anyone with a cellphone to share their opinion on any subject with no requirement for any kind of fact-checking or even an expectation that what they are saying is true.
Modern Disinformation Use
In 2018, news broke surrounding data company Cambridge Analytica’s widespread information harvesting practices via Facebook apps. It was discovered that huge amounts of personal information were collected to build psychological profiles of users and target them with information and disinformation campaigns to sway their opinions on things like local and national elections. These campaigns were considered highly successful and contributed to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election results as well as European issues like the vote on “Brexit.” (More information on this incident can be seen in the documentary “The Great Hack.”)
Today, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, anyone on a platform like TikTok is bombarded by stories of heroes like the “Ghost of Kyiv,” a fighter pilot rumored to have shot down Russian jets. However, many if not all of the videos circulated were proven to be fake. These videos depicted flight simulator video games overlaid with sounds pulled from war footage. Does the Ghost of Kyiv exist? Maybe. We don’t know. We do know that the videos were intentionally fabricated to support a narrative.
In fact, so much disinformation exists revolving around the war in Ukraine that the US State Department maintains a site to track many of the claims and provides sources proving them True or False which is accessible here: https://www.state.gov/fact-vs-fiction-russian-disinformation-on-ukraine/
How to Identify Disinformation
We can’t stop disinformation but we can learn to identify it and reduce its impact. Below are some ways to verify that the information you see is real.
Check the Source:
This is the easiest way to ensure you are receiving accurate information. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the source credible?
- What biases does the source have and could that be influencing the message being delivered?
- Can you find more than one credible and independent source for the same information?
If you find multiple sources that all cite each other or a single root source, be very cautious with how much credibility you give the information. Ideally you should be able to find multiple independent sources to corroborate information.
Separate Fact from Analysis:
Facts are provable pieces of information while analysis or assessments are opinions about situations. Analysis is important but generally comes with the biases of whoever is providing it (intentionally or not). Facts are data-driven, and while they often require context, do not inherently have bias or opinions built in.
Remember, not all opinions are equal. Everyone can have an opinion on a subject, but not everyone’s opinion is based in fact and not everyone has the expertise to have an informed opinion.
If you are presented with a piece of information, fact-check it. Look for a credible source and see if you can corroborate the information. Look for information that might disprove it or strengthen the info.
Be Aware of your Biases:
Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that occur when we try to process and interpret information. Some of the biases that are exploited during disinformation campaigns are:
- Anchoring: Where you rely more heavily on the first pieces of information you are given than other pieces, regardless of their actual value.
- Confirmation Bias: Favoring information that supports your existing belief over information that might counter it.
Be Aware of Fallacies:
Fallacies are beliefs based on unsound arguments. Some common fallacies we see in disinformation campaigns are:
- Argument from repetition: Believing something because it has been said over and over.
- Argument from silence: Accepting a conclusion because no one can disprove it. To be accepted, claims need to be proven, not disproven.
With these tips you can better recognize disinformation when it lands on your screen. If you are unsure of the facts, it’s best to not spread the information further.
Jordan Silva is senior manager of service delivery at Hawaiian Telcom. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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