Fact-Checking During Wartime

Source of the graphic: Canva.

Fact-checking is the process of verifying information, particularly in relation to the content that emerges on social media. In today’s world, it is easy to spread falsehoods that quickly circulate online and influence the opinions and decisions of many individuals. By checking the authenticity of the content surrounding us, we can shape our life choices based on reliable information. Fact-checking also helps prevent the spread of misinformation, which can lead to harmful actions such as hostility, discrimination, or xenophobia.

Disinformation about the war in Russia

The word “disinformation” in the context of the conflict beyond the eastern border is primarily associated with the actions of the Russian authorities directed “outwards” to the world beyond the borders of this country. However, it should not be forgotten that similar content is targeted towards the Russian society and may serve as an indirect cause of social support for military actions.

Moscow is shaping its own image of the war in Ukraine. Key elements of this image include the claims that:

  • Russia is not a party to the war and is not conducting any military operations on Ukrainian territory (only a “special military operation”).
  • This is an internal conflict within Ukraine, where separatist forces in the eastern part of the country are fighting for their rights and freedom against the government in Kyiv, which is portrayed as illegal and dominated by fascists.
  • The Ukrainian government is extremely nationalist and anti-Russian (without reason) and commits numerous crimes against the Russian population and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
  • The Ukrainian Armed Forces are terrorists and Nazis.

Sources: Demagog Association, Dezinformacja po rosyjsku: osłabić Ukrainę i ośmieszyć Zachód [Russian Disinformation: Weakening Ukraine and Ridiculing the West] [accessed: May 10, 2023]; Central European Digital Media Observatory (CEDMO), Dezinformacja związana z wojną w Ukrainie, kwiecień 2023 [Disinformation Related to the War in Ukraine, April 2023] [accessed: April 2023]; M. Kowalska-Chrzanowska, P. Krysiński, Fake newsy na temat wojny w Ukrainie w świetle projektu „Zgłoś Trolla”, [Fake News about the War in Ukraine in the Light of the ‘Report the Troll’ Project], „Zeszyty Prasoznawcze” 2023, nr 1, s. 11–32.

There is no shortage of “facts” about the motivations, reactions, and actions of the West regarding the Russo-Ukrainian war. In the Russian narrative, the West is generally portrayed as having incited protests in Ukraine in 2014, which led to the downfall of the Viktor Yanukovych government and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. According to Russian narratives, the West also supported the Ukrainian authorities who allegedly employed violence against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

In addition to the aforementioned general slogans, Russian propaganda discourse also includes “lighter” fake news in the form of manipulated reactions to current events on the international and domestic fronts. A good example of this is President Putin’s visit to Mariupol in March 2023, during which a group of newly settled residents in the city seemed moved and grateful for everything Vladimir Putin had done for them. Despite the official praises being voiced, the recording captures someone shouting, “It’s all lies, it’s all for show,” while the faces of the government representatives reveal noticeable panic and unease.

Sources: Gazeta Prawna, Putin był w Mariupolu? Ukraiński wywiad wojskowy: Nie ma na to dowodów [Was Putin in Mariupol? Ukrainian Military Intelligence: There is no evidence] [accessed: March 20, 2023]; PAP, Putin z wizytą w okupowanym Mariupolu [Putin Visits Occupied Mariupol] [accessed: March 19, 2023].

Photo: Samprazaan on Canva.

War propaganda as a political tool

War propaganda is the deliberate and purposeful use of various media tools to influence public opinion and manipulate its perception of a particular armed conflict or war. It is typically employed by parties involved in the conflict to promote their goals, ideologies, and attitudes, as well as to demonize or defame the enemy.

Some of the key tools of war propaganda include media outlets such as television, radio, print media, and social media. Through these channels, conflicting parties can control the information disseminated, selectively introduce information, censor or manipulate it to create the desired image of the conflict. Other significant methods of war propaganda are the narratives and rhetoric employed by political leaders. These leaders may use emotional appeals invoking patriotism, religion, and other values to mobilize public opinion in support of the war and engagement in it. They may also portray the enemy as evil and a threat to the nation, which can fuel fanaticism and hatred towards them.

Finally, war propaganda can involve the use of symbols, slogans, posters, and other forms of communication to promote a particular ideology. The purpose of employing such tools is to influence the emotions and beliefs of the audience, as well as to mobilize people in support of the war or militaristic actions.

Negative consequences of the spread of fake news

Disinformation about the war in Ukraine can lead to the violation of stability and security. False reports carry the risk of escalating tensions and conflicts, thereby causing overall destabilization. Another consequence can be the deterioration of international relations. Disinformation can contribute to the cessation of support for the attacked country, not only from governments but also from citizens. Furthermore, the spread of fake news can lead to the formation of a false interpretation of the situation on the frontlines, which in turn can result in making dangerous decisions, increasing the risk of human losses.

It is important to remember these consequences, especially since we, as internet users, can inadvertently contribute to the spread of fake news online through thoughtless sharing of posts, links, or tweets.

How to fact-check information

To fact-check information related to the war in Ukraine and verify fake news, it is important to pay attention to several key elements:

  • Source of information – Check who the author of the article or message is. Is it a credible source? Is it a reputable news agency or newspaper? Or is it an online platform known for publishing sensational and false information? Or perhaps it is an unknown individual whose identity cannot be easily verified?
  • Facts – Verify if the presented information is supported by evidence. Does the article provide sources for the information presented? Can those sources be verified? Do other, more reliable sources confirm the information?
  • Language and tone – Is the language used in the article emotional or extreme in tone? Does the author rely on objective facts or use manipulative language and aggressive rhetoric? Is the presented reality presented in black and white without any shades of gray?
  • Context – Are the information presented in a broader context of events and phenomena? Does the article omit important facts or distort their meaning?
  • Source comparison – Try to find other sources that confirm or contradict the presented information. Do other sources report similar events in the same way? If not, it may suggest that the article or the message you received is untrue.
The Demagog Association has created an educational game that supports the fight against fake news. You can play it on the website fakesnothanks.pl [also in English].

How to counteract disinformation

Each of us can take action to counter fake news. It is important not only to individually fact-check information but also to report it further, for example, to the administration of social media platforms where it appears. False information, as well as those that are difficult to assess independently, should be sent to fact-checking institutions. Platforms that accept news for verification include:

  • Stowarzyszenie Demagog [Demagog Association] – the first Polish fact-checking organization. You can submit suspicious news for verification on the Demagog website.
  • Wojownicy Klawiatury [Keyboard Warriors] – this project is created by the Geremek Foundation and the Robert Schuman Foundation, belonging to the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) network of European fact-checking organizations. They accept materials for fact-checking on their platform.
  • #Fake Hunter – a fact-checking project by the Polish Press Agency (PAP). You can report information for fact-checking using the provided link.
  • Zgłoś Trolla! [Report the Troll!) – submitted reports (you can do it here) are examined by analysts who verify the content on profiles and assess their accuracy.
  • AFP Sprawdzam – a part of Agence France-Presse (AFP), a multilingual, multicultural news agency whose mission is to provide accurate, balanced, and objective information about world events. AFP independently selects facts to be fact-checked.
  • Kontant24 – a fact-checking website operated by TVN station.

Additional Resources

  1. Ośrodek Studiów Wschodnich [The Centre for Eastern Studies] at the University of Warsaw conducts a series on YouTube called Przegląd propagandy rosyjskiej [Review of Russian Propaganda], in which experts analyze various elements of Russian disinformation and highlight its weak points.
  2. OKO.press, in their series Prawda czy Fałsz [Truth or False], analyzes statements made by politicians, high-ranking officials, church hierarchs, and leaders of social movements.
  3. AFP also warns against fake images: Jak rozpoznać obrazy wygenerowane przez sztuczną inteligencję? [How to recognize images generated by artificial intelligence?]. Here are a few simple tips.
  4. It is worth following the reports and activities of the Central European Digital Media Observatory. CEDMO is an independent multidisciplinary hub that aims to identify, study, and prioritize the most significant sources and causes of information disorders in Central Europe (mainly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland).
  5. Stowarzyszenie Demagog [Demagog Association] shows what content to be cautious of: Antyukraińska propaganda. Uważaj na te techniki manipulacji [Anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Beware of these manipulation techniques], article, April 2023.

Source of the featured graphic: Unsplash.