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UKRAINE RESOURCE DATABASE

COMBATTING DISINFORMATION

By Bill Fitzgerald via funnymonkey.com

Due to Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, videos and images of the war have been shared widely on social media. This brings up multiple related but separate issues:

  1. How to discern real from fake videos/images;
  2. What to do/whether or not to share once we discern whether or not something is real or fake;
  3. How to show support/get involved in ways that are truly helpful.

These are three separate issues, but all come from the same core source: generally, we all want to help, and most of us are too far away to have an impact that feels satisfying — and this can lead to frustration, which in turn leads to disengagement. Staying engaged is both difficult and essential, and engagement doesn’t happen without work.

In this post — which is by no means exhaustive — I’ll go over a few ways we can identify the truth, determine when or how to share the truth, and how we can have an impact, even from a distance.

1. Spotting Misinformation or Disinformation

Misinformation and Disinformation are not the same, but for our purposes here the distinction isn’t especially relevant: both misinfo and disinfo are false and misleading, and our goal is to split fact from lies.

The best framework available for quickly carving through information is the SIFT method. Remember: our goal here is ONLY to determine the reliability of information. We are not chasing down the source of misinfo, the motivations behind why it was shared, or the larger narrative within which it fits. Those elements are interesting, but they are rabbit holes that take us away from our goal: how likely is it that the thing I’m seeing is real.

SIFT stands for:

  • Stop
  • Investigate the source
  • Find better coverage
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context

What’s great about SIFT is how it moves you sideways through the verification process. Effective misinformation often affects us emotionally, and interacting directly with the content can short-circuit our caution and skepticism. By moving sideways and evaluating the source we regain our ability to think critically.

I’m not going to go into detail on SIFT because Mike Caulfield – the person who created it – already has.

In addition to SIFT, FirstDraft News has great training resources as well.

2. Sharing Well

When sharing media from conflicts, we all need to exercise extreme caution, and be guided by two key principles:

  • Do no harm;
  • Don’t amplify people’s suffering.

Our motivations for sharing can be completely valid — ie, wanting to show support; wanting to document war crimes — but while the act of sharing on social media is technically simple, the implications of sharing are long lasting and potentially irreversible.

Nearly all images and media contain identifying information — faces, voices, clues to location, automobiles owned by participants, etc. Sharing media that shows, for example, a successful ambush by resistance fighters, carries the risk of identifying the fighters, their location, their equipment, etc. In many cases, if a person can be identified, that can create elevated risk for that person, or that person’s family. Over time, depending on who wins the conflict, the act of being part of any resistance could become a reason for retribution.

And to be clear: nations actively scan and archive social media content.

In short: unless you have specialized training and know how to share safely, do not share raw footage you encounter online. Verification of this footage can be difficult, and even if it can be verified, sharing it could unintentionally create risk for people in the video or images.

A good and safe use for media is to find trusted sources and track what is happening by watching media from those sources. I have been staying somewhat up to date using information from a variety of sources, including these:

And to be clear: when we are talking about being informed of what’s happening in a war, we are talking about increasing our awareness of obscene levels of cruelty and inhumanity. Bellingcat put out a piece a while back on how to manage the potential of vicarious trauma. It’s designed for OSINT researchers, but it is generally useful and applicable outside OSINT work.

So, when answering the question about what to share, and how to share safely: my general recommendation is unless you are a professional, don’t share raw footage of conflicts. Read trusted sources, stay informed, but share sparingly. Amplify trustworthy voices, especially from people in country, but with caution. Sharing feels like a show of support, but it’s better to refrain from sharing if there is even a small chance that someone else could be put at increased risk as a result.

3. Getting Involved from Afar

Part of what motivated me to write this post is that I’ve seen a lot of “advice” and content that warns us all to “not get fooled” by misinformation, but then doesn’t tell us anything else. Obviously, no one wants to be deceived, but that advice is meaningless without any grounding in what we can do next.

If you are on social media, share accurate and vetted information from reliable sources — an example is this piece from a Sky News team that was ambushed by Russian forces in Ukraine, and somehow managed to escape without getting killed.

For those with the means to contribute financially, there are numerous organizations on the ground working.

The two sites linked below have a list of orgs doing work to support people in Ukraine. For most of us, the way we can have the most immediate positive impact is by donating money.

THE SIFT METHOD

Looking to get better at sorting truth from fiction from everything in between? At applying your attention to the things that matter? At amplifying better treatments of issues, and avoiding clickbait? Click here.