Covid19 fakes: photos from Russia showing “Ukrainian reality”29.04.2020
In information war against Ukraine, Russian propaganda uses various topics, even Covid19, for promoting their messages. With the help of fake news they are trying to prove that Ukraine is “weak and helpless” and thus “doomed to return to the brotherhood of the nations”, “back into the big brother’s embrace”. One of the methods used for this purpose is informational fakes on the “catastrophic situation in Ukrainian hospitals”, disseminated in social media from fake accounts. Photos made “in Ukrainian medica institutions” illustrate the news making them “more truthful”. However, even a simple check proves the falseness of such information. Experts of the International Centre of Сountering Russian propaganda decided to run a masterclass on media hygeine and debunking disinformation using one concrete example of a fake.
On 28 March a user Magas Kamenov published on FB group “It’s interesting – stories from all over the world” the following post. It’s a classic, even an exemplary case of disinformation, which can be used to demonstrate principles of constructing fake news.
What should a social media user pay attention in order to identify a fake:
1) the opening phrase “Ukrainian doctors en masse are throwing into social media…” Generalisation is the classic method of disinformation. If there is no specific reference to a medical worker, or a name of the “seniour doctor”, no mention of the location of the hospital, where the photo has been taken, you can be 99.9% sure it’s a fake.
2) Attempt to cause strong emotions – horror, anger, aversion, dispair, helplessness, loss – is another typical method of Russian propaganda for fake constructing. Take note of the emotional colouring of the post and epithets used by the author, e.g. “no medicine”, “collective graves” etc. Emotional tension is pumpted up by the photos of most vulnerable categories of people, i.e. children and the elderly
3) Use of caps lock, numerous exclamation marks, use of bold type and other ways to attract attention to the post could also be indirect prove of it being a piece of disinformation
4) Unbelievable number of sharings, comments and emoji is another sign. As a rule, bots farms are disseminating fakes, so it’s their task to “plant” fakes from the orginal source in social media with a big number of users. They also provide emotionally coloured comments, which create and strengthen the emotional background. A fake we’re analysing has astronomic number of shares (34000), likes (1900) and comments (443)
5) Illustration of “Ukrainian reality” with the use of photos taken at a different time and in a different country. It is easy to check the original sources of the any photo. All you have to do is open it and right click to choose “Find picture in Google”
6) The search of this post’s photo shows it was taken not in Ukraine but in Russian Federation
7) If you analyse all references brought by the search, you can even find where and when the original picture was taken. For example, one of the most emotionally coloured photos is of a child on a hospital bed facing the wall with stained peeling paint – it was made in the infectious deseases department of the children’s hospital in the city of Tver, Russian Federation
8) The author of the post is a fake account. It you go to this fake’s author’s page, you will find all typical elements of a fake account, or of a bot. It was created on 11 March 2020, especially for the disinformation campaign on covid19. You will not find any personal pictures on the profile page, or a post, there’s not many friends. Interesting to note that personal dat of the bot gives Grozny (Chechnya, Russian Federation). So not a lot of effort is needed to reveal “a Russian trace” in this disinformation. Therefore, Russian propaganda uses the method of “mirror reflecting”, i.e. they blame Ukraine in the issue which is a challenge for themselves (in this case, a dreadful state of the healthcare system).
So don’t believe fakes, check informaiton and care about your hygeine, both physical and informational.
Valentyna Bykova, International Center for Countering Russian Propaganda