By Erin McNeill, MLN President
An Instagram account has appeared; its bio claims that it is run by journalists in Ukraine, and it sounds legit, to wit: @livefromukraine. This one, and others, are run out of places far from the fighting, in the US and elsewhere, and the motivation is to get as many followers as possible to monetize via advertisements. The operator makes the most superficial attempt to verify information before posting it, according to Input Magazine: “I can’t really verify them myself,” he says of the videos he shares.
And of course, part of Russia’s attack strategy is disinformation, to throw Ukraine’s response into disarray, to keep the Russian people in the dark, and to divide the people of other countries, such as the US. Via NBC News:
[Ben Strickland, director of investigations at the Centre for Information Resilience, a nonprofit organization based in London that actively monitors disinformation campaigns] said he’s seen a shift in recent days away from Russian propaganda that sought to blame Western democracies and NATO for causing tensions and toward justifying an invasion of Ukraine. That has included disinformation and false accusations about fascists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
Disinformation is coming from all directions. You know what you can control? The disinformation coming from you. Don’t help it spread. Don’t feed it. How? Don’t share what you’re not sure about. And it’s hard to be sure right now.
There are guides, like “SIFT” that tell us to slow down, investigate the source, etc. Yes, do it, when the object is to inform yourself. But verifying a firehose of information with the goal of sharing it, even one single photo or video, can require a lot of skill, time and effort.
I once took a training offered by Bellingcat on OSINT or “open source intelligence” – essentially, verifying social media information to discern the truth. It was fun, and it was a full work week and we just really skimmed the surface and didn’t even get into deep fake video and audio. Believe me, it’s a lot of work and really hard to do if you’re not on it full time. Here’s what Bellingcat is up to right now.
So here’s my idea: Don’t share anything on social media about the events in Ukraine. People feel that they see something important, shocking, emotionally wrenching, they need to share it. They feel obligated to share it. But you don’t have to share on social media. You’d don’t. You are likely to do more harm than good. Are you a full time journalist, cybersecurity expert, government official? If you’re not sure, don’t share. Even if you are sure, don’t share.
This is from Abby Ohlheiser in MIT Technology Review. The article makes the case that even well-meaning attempts to participate in the news can play into bad actors’ campaigns.
Your attention matters…
First, realize that what you do online makes a difference. “People often think that because they’re not influencers, they’re not politicians, they’re not journalists, that what they do [online] doesn’t matter,” Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, told me in 2020. But it does matter. Sharing dubious information with even a small circle of friends and family can lead to its wider dissemination.
Seek out good sources for yourself – produced by journalists. It’s not easy to do the work yourself of determining what’s a good source. You can look to the work that others have done. Consult the media bias chart created by our partners Ad Fontes Media. There are plenty of sources, diverse sources, left and right sources, in the green box at the peak of that pyramid. Today, the best sources are available to everyone online.
Then, don’t share.