Verification of fake videos of the conflict in Ukraine

By Tara Subramaniam, CNN

The way the conflict in Ukraine has unfolded on social media has made it difficult for many people to determine what is real and what is not. Mobile phone videos of local people circulated on Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, but some of the videos claiming to describe the situation on the ground in Ukraine turned out to be fake.

Many instead feature old footage from elsewhere, while some even used scenes from video games.

To fight misinformation around Ukraine, Facebook has set up a “special operations center” Thursday afternoon to respond to war-related activity and “faster removal of content that violates our Community Standards”, while Twitter shared advice to use its platform in conflict zones.

Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M University whose research focuses on propaganda and political rhetoric, said it’s no surprise that a conflict involving Russia includes what she calls a “war some information”.

“Information warfare was always going to be part of that,” Mercieca said. “Obviously the Russians have evolved their information warfare operations a lot over the last five or six years. We’ve certainly seen the effects of that on American politics, on Brexit, on other kinds of campaigns around the world.

Although information warfare is not new, according to Mercieca, the extent to which disinformation is currently spreading is a consequence of the sheer volume of information about the situation in Ukraine available in different forms of media.

“What’s different now is that there are so many more nodes for distributing propaganda,” Mercieca told CNN. “We have the problem that we always have on social media of having too much information and not being able to sort through it and filter it to say what’s real and what’s not. One thing we observe always in the event of a crisis or natural disaster is that people will spread content that they know is false.

This has proven particularly true for the current conflict. Journalists debunked several viral videos of old footage often from other conflicts shared on social media and even in one case on TV as if reflecting the situation on the ground.

Here are three such examples:

  • Ben Collins, NBC News reporter, who covers misinformation demystified a video of a parachuting soldier with more than 20 million views on TikTok, where the top comment suggested he was “recording an invasion”. The same video was posted in August 2015 by an Instagram account with the same username and what appears to be the same profile picture as the TikTok account. The original poster has since made his TikTok account private, but videos from other accounts that include snippets of the original video are still visible, including one that has over 31,000 likes where text overlaid on the original video implies that the sequence is in progress. conflict, with the individual expressing shock at “watching a war on TikTok.” That shock would be understandable, except in this case they’re not actually watching war footage.
  • Several videos purported to show Russian planes flying in formations over Kiev, but a reverse image search of screenshots from the videos suggests they were footage of a flyover in Moscow ahead of a party Russian. Excerpts from the posts also match a YouTube compilation of military aircraft titled “Flyby Moscow (May 04, 2020)”. The videos, originally verified by USA Today, are now flagged as fake news on Facebook. One of the videos was captioned “Russian planes in the sky of Kyiv”, another “Russian planes fly over the sky of #Kiev, the capital of Ukraine”. Both videos have had over 700 views.
  • In Newsmax’s “National Report” on Thursday, host Shaun Kraisman said, “You see some of that thermal imagery there, just tanks, ground troops when it’s just getting started.” However, the video released by Newsmax is not about Ukraine but about Syria in 2020. Christiaan Triebert, who is part of the New York Times visual investigations team, Noted on Twitter that the sequence was a mirrored version of a 2020 video showing a Syrian convoy of tanks being destroyed by drones. Newsmax cited the source of the video as “Ukrainian Armed Forces”. Although a Twitter account with a similar name shared the images on Thursday, the 2020 video originally came from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and job by Clash Report.

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