How the internet fights Russian disinformation about Ukraine


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This article was contributed by Maria Rosil, content writer at software company Euristiq in Lviv, Ukraine.

Sanctions are taking their toll on Russia and the Russian people, but there is still little protest in the country against the war against Ukraine. Russians have been receiving propaganda about Ukraine for decades and now refuse to acknowledge the facts: their soldiers invade tanks, carry out air strikes, shell houses and kill innocent civilians.

In fact, Russian officials reverse this information and claim that it is the Ukrainians who drop bombs on their cities.

Russian disinformation campaigns aim to mix up the facts about Ukraine and confuse citizens into manipulating them into making decisions that are against their interests. The situation is getting critical — fathers don’t believe their own sons – telling them that Russia has invaded Ukraine because they believe the lies about a “special military operation” and the “liberation” of Ukraine.

In the absence of a free press in Russia, the internet could play a vital role in keeping the Russian people informed about the terror their armed forces have inflicted on Ukrainian citizens. With the connection to the Internet, this information cannot be limited as it once could have been. The world – and Ukrainians in the first place – have begun to take innovative steps with online tools to combat the disinformation and fake news that Russia is spreading.

A few years ago, Facebook started labeling “state-controlled media” accounts on Instagram and Facebook. Last week, the company confirmed that it has started restricting the algorithmic distribution of content formed by the Russian government and taking down posts with links to such accounts. Facebook has also started decrease content with links to Russian state-controlled media websites, and Instagram will follow shortly.

Credit: Screenshot/Instagram

Twitter also uses labels on state-affiliated accounts to stop the spread of Russian disinformation. Twitter’s latest move is to label and de-amplify individual accounts that share links from state media, and add warning labels to tweets containing such links. These actions came after Russian media falsely portrayed Ukraine as an aggressor.

Anonymous Hacker Group

Last week, Anonymous, a global hacker community, explained a cyber war against the Kremlin’s criminal regime. The group managed to hack into Russian government TV channels where news is heavily censored broadcast the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.

It also targeted and hacked Russian and Belarusian government websites, state media, banks, hospitals, airports, businesses and pro-Russian “hacking groups” in support of Ukraine. The attacks use the same DDoS techniques used in the cyber attacks on Ukrainian banks and government websites. In such attacks, the website is flooded with bot traffic and crashes under the demand for data.

Ukraine’s IT Army

The Ukrainian resistance has also been active on the cyber front. After Russia carried out numerous DDoS attacks on Ukrainian institutions in the early days of the war, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation announced the creation of an IT army, a group of IT specialists and ordinary Ukrainians who can follow the guidelines to inform the Russians about what is really happening in Ukraine and slow down the spread of disinformation.

Refresh Startup Input

Ukrainians are also trying to break into the Russian government-controlled information bubble by using popular apps to inform Russians about the real situation in Ukraine.

An example is the Ukrainian face-swapping app Reface, which is built for entertainment purposes. Workers working from shelters in Kiev, reface launched push notifications to app users in Russia calling on them to join protests and join Ukraine.

Credit: Reface

Google Maps ‘guerrilla war’

Another example, spurred on by a post on a Twitter account claiming to be a member of a hacker group AnonymouslyOrdinary Ukrainian people leave restaurant reviews on Google explaining what is currently happening in Ukraine.

Credit: Screenshot/Google

How you can help fight disinformation about Ukraine

To help fight Russian disinformation, the first thing you should do is read verified sources of information, such as: BBC news† Ukrainian media also publish coverage in English. You can check these links:

And the following is a list of key social media accounts of Ukrainian government officials:

The second thing you can do is spread the word about the war in Ukraine and the brutal Russian invasion on social media, and back it up with links to trusted sources. Hiding the truth has no place in the 21st century, and any responsible person with access to facts and reliable information should not remain silent.

Maria Rosil is a content writer at software company Euristiq in Lviv, Ukraine.

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