Amid the alarming images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in recent days, millions of people have also seen misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.
An example is this video of military aircraft posted on TikTokwhich is historical footage but subtitled as a live video of the situation in Ukraine.
Visuals, because of their persuasiveness potential and attention-grabbing nature, are an especially powerful choice for those seeking to mislead. Where creating, editing, or sharing inauthentic visual content isn’t satire or art, it’s usually political or economic motivation.
Disinformation campaigns aim to distract, confuse, manipulate and sow division, discord and uncertainty in the community. This is a common strategy for strongly polarized nations where socio-economic inequality, disenfranchisement and propaganda reign.
How is this fake content created and distributed, what is being done to debunk it, and how can you make sure you don’t fall for it yourself?
What are the most common counterfeiting techniques?
Using an existing photo or video and claiming it is from another time or place is one of the most common forms of misinformation in this context. It doesn’t require any special software or technical skills – just the willingness to download an old video of a missile attack or other striking image, and describe it as new footage.
Another low-tech option is to staging or posing actions or events and present them as a reality. This was the case of the destroyed vehicles which, according to Russia, were bombed by Ukraine.
Using a particular lens or viewpoint can also alter the appearance of the scene and can be used to deceive. A close shot of people, for example, can make it difficult to gauge the number of people in a crowd, compared to an overhead shot.
Going further, Photoshop or equivalent software can be used to add or remove people or objects from a scene, or to crop elements of a photograph. An example of object addition is the photograph below, which purports to show construction machinery outside a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. The satirical text accompanying the image jokes about the “caliber of construction machinery” – the author suggesting that reports of damage to buildings due to military orders are exaggerated or false.
Close inspection reveals that this image was digitally altered to include machinery. This tweet could be seen as an attempt to downplay the extent of the damage resulting from a Russian-backed missile attack and, in the larger context, to create confusion and doubt about the veracity of other images emerging. of the conflict zone.
What is being done about it?
European organizations such as Bellingcat began compiling lists of dubious claims on social media regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and debunking them where necessary.
They also have tweaked their algorithms to change amplified content and have hired staff to spot and report misleading content. Platforms also work behind the scenes to detect and share publicly state-related information operations information.
Read more: What can the West do to help Ukraine? It can start by countering Putin’s information strategy
What can I do about this?
You can try to fact check pictures for yourself rather than taking them at face value. A article we wrote late last year for the Australian Associated Press explains the fact-checking process at every stage: imaging, editing and distribution.
Here are five simple steps you can follow:
1. Review metadata
This telegram post claims that Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a sewage treatment plant in an effort to place a chlorine tank for a “false flag” attack.
But the video’s metadata (the details of how and when the video was created) To display it was filmed days before the alleged date of the incident.
To check the metadata for yourself, you can download the file and use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Bridge to examine it. In line metadata viewers also exist that allow you to check using the image web link.
One obstacle to this approach is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often strip metadata from photos and videos when they are uploaded to their sites. In these cases, you can try requesting the original file or checking fact-checking websites to see if they have already verified or debunked the images in question.
2. Consult a fact-checking resource
AFP has already demystified a video purporting to show an explosion of the current conflict in Ukraine as being from the 2020 port disaster in Beirut.
3. Search more broadly
If the old content has been recycled and reused, you may be able to find the same used footage elsewhere. You can use Google Images Where TinEye to “reverse image search” an image and see where it appears online.
But be aware that simple changes such as reversing the left-right orientation of an image can trick search engines into thinking the reversed image is new.
4. Look for inconsistencies
Does the assumed time of day match the direction of light you expect at that time, for example? Do watches or do the clocks visible in the image correspond to the alleged chronology claimed?
You can also compare other data points, such as politicians’ schedules or verified sightings, Google Earth view or Google Maps images, to try to triangulate the statements and see if the details are consistent.
5. Ask yourself a few simple questions
Do you know or, when and Why was the photo or video taken? Do you know WHO done, and if what you’re looking at is the original version?
Use online tools such as InVID Where forensic can potentially help answer some of these questions. Or you can refer to this list of 20 questions you can use to “question” social media images with the right level of healthy skepticism.
Read more: 3.2 billion images and 720,000 hours of video are shared daily online. Can you sort the real from the fake?
Ultimately, if you have any doubts, do not share or repeat claims that have not been published by a reliable source such as an international news outlet. And consider using some of these principles when deciding which sources to trust.
By doing so, you can help limit the influence of misinformation and help clarify the true situation in Ukraine.