WASHINGTON (AP) – Messages, videos and photos flying on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram far exceed the number of air strikes on Ukraine.
They claim to show how Russian fighters shoot down or evade Ukrainians in their homes.
Some of them are real, horrible images of this war. Others have been hiding online for years before Russia launched the largest attack on a European country since World War II.
The invasion of Ukraine is turning into the first major armed conflict in Europe in the era of social networks, when the small screen of a smartphone is the dominant tool of communication, carrying the danger of instant spread of dangerous, even deadly, misinformation.
TikTok videos, promoted headlines and tweets that have been heard on screens around the world are baffling millions of people as to how this battle unfolds on earth.
In the Telegram and Twitter, Russia’s attack on Ukraine was both “unprovoked” and “necessary,” depending on the sender of the message.
“Prayers for peace tonight with the people of Ukraine as they suffer from an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,” President Joe Biden tweeted to his 40 million followers on Wednesday night.
Russian state media, however, echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments on their platforms, and RT News announced to hundreds of Telegram subscribers that the action was “necessary.”
Over the past few days, Putin and Russian media have intensified false accusations that Ukrainians are committing genocide and mistakenly characterizing the majority of the country’s population as Nazis, said Brett Schaefer, who heads a group manipulating information in the Alliance for Democracy. a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
Last week, for example, RT news director said live on television without evidence that Ukrainians could start gassing their people.
“You have really seen this escalation of the narrative that Russia must protect itself from this Nazi mob of genocidal Ukrainians,” Schaefer said.
As Thursday approached, the rest of the world found it even harder to extract the truth from a series of hundreds of deceptive tweets, deceptively edited videos and photos that appeared after the first shots of the war rang out.
One video clip, taken from a video game, garnered millions of views because users falsely claimed it portrayed real attacks. The video, shot by the Associated Press in Libya more than a decade ago, was revived on Facebook and Twitter on Thursday, and users said it showed a Russian fighter jet that crashed across the gray sky to the ground after being shot down by Ukrainian forces. And some TikTok users mistakenly thought they were watching a video of soldiers parachuting into Ukraine after a Russian account posted a multi-year video while Russia was invading – that didn’t stop the video from gaining more than 22 million views by the end of the day. . .
People who see these videos, photos and claims online are more likely to view them, share them and continue their day, said John Silva, senior director of the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit that fights disinformation through education.
“We see a paratrooper, he speaks Russian, so we don’t waste time asking questions,” Silva said. “When we see new information for us, we have a desire to share it with others.”
And while some users inadvertently spread rumors in hopes of shaping the perception of the invasion, others are betting on the idea that they can trick involuntary social media users into sharing lies.
“We know that disinformation will come out of the Russian government,” Silva said. “Then you also have trolls – people who just spread things out to see if they can fool people.”
People are consuming these misleading allegations because they are desperate for information, said Schaefer of the Alliance for Democracy.
“You have a huge surge in demand, low supply of reliable information and a lot of inaccurate information that fills the void,” he added.
This void widened on Thursday when Internet crashes swept through several parts of Ukraine, making it even harder for people there to contact relatives or follow the news.
According to Pavel Durov, one of the founders of Telegram, when a surge of people tried to access Telegram, a social network and messaging platform popular in Eastern Europe, the app crashed.
Major Russian websites, including major Kremlin and military websites, were also inaccessible or slow to load after what appeared to be a retaliatory attack. And US officials have accused Russia of shutting down major government websites in Ukraine.
On Thursday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and in the strategic port of Mariupol, there were widespread outages, said Alp Toker, founder of NetBlocks, a London-based company that monitors network outages and Internet access around the world.
While some disruptions may be caused by shells or air strikes, others are part of a deliberate effort by Russian forces to disrupt communication and cause panic, he said.
“Blow after blow, the human impact of shutting down at such a time is a horrible experience,” he said. “It makes sense from a tactical point of view. We know this is a strategy. “
Clapper reported from Providence, Rhode Island. Associated Press authors Ali Swenson of New York, Abril Mulatto of Mexico City, and Sophia Tulip of Atlanta contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at /hub/russia-ukraine