How the Internet is fighting Russian disinformation about Ukraine

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This article was written by Maria Rosil, content writer for software company Euristiq in Lviv, Ukraine.

The sanctions are taking their toll on Russia and the Russian people, but there is still little protest in the country against the war on Ukraine. The Russians have been fed propaganda about Ukraine for decades and now refuse to acknowledge the facts: their soldiers are invading with tanks, carrying out airstrikes, bombing houses and killing innocent civilians.

In fact, Russian officials are return this information and claiming that it is the Ukrainians who are dropping bombs on their cities.

Russian disinformation campaigns aim to blur the facts about Ukraine and confuse citizens to manipulate them into making decisions against their interests. The situation is becoming critical -– fathers don’t believe their own sons – telling them that Russia invaded Ukraine because they believe the lies about a “special military operation” and the “liberation” of Ukraine.

In the absence of a free press in Russia, the internet could play a crucial role in keeping the Russian people informed of the terror its military forces have inflicted on Ukrainian civilians. With the Internet connection, this information cannot be restricted as it might have been in the past. The world – and, first and foremost, Ukrainians – have begun to take innovative action with online tools to combat disinformation and fake news spread by Russia.

A few years ago, Facebook began labeling accounts as “state-controlled media” on Instagram and Facebook. Last week the company confirmed that it has begun to limit the algorithmic dissemination of content fashioned by the Russian government and to downgrade posts that link to such accounts. Facebook has also started downgrade content with links to Russian state-controlled media websites, and Instagram is expected to follow suit soon.

Credit: Screenshot/Instagram

Twitter also uses labels on state-affiliated accounts to stop the spread of Russian misinformation. Twitter’s latest move is to label and de-emphasize individual accounts that share links from state-run outlets, and add warning labels to tweets containing such links. These actions came after Russian media falsely portrayed Ukraine as an aggressor.

Anonymous hacker group

Last week, Anonymous, a global community of hackers, declared a cyberwar against the criminal Kremlin regime. The group managed to hack into Russian government TV channels where news is heavily censored to broadcast the truth about what is happening in Ukraine.

He also targeted and hacked Russian and Belarusian government websites, state media, banks, hospitals, airports, businesses and pro-Russian “hacking groups” in support of Ukraine. The attacks use the same DDoS techniques used in cyberattacks on Ukrainian banking and government sites. During such attacks, the website is flooded with bot traffic and crashes under the demand for data.

The Ukrainian IT Army

The Ukrainian resistance has also been active on the cybersecurity front. After Russia launched numerous DDoS attacks against Ukrainian institutions in the early days of the war, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation announcement the creation of a computer army, a group of computer specialists and ordinary Ukrainians who can follow directives to inform Russians about what is really happening in Ukraine and slow the spread of misinformation.

Reface boot entry

Ukrainians are also trying to penetrate the Russian government-controlled news bubble by using popular apps to inform Russians about the real situation in Ukraine.

One example is the Ukrainian face-swap app Reface, which was designed for entertainment purposes. Reface employees working in shelters in Kyiv push notifications launched to app users in Russia calling on them to join protests and stand with Ukraine.

Credit: Reface

Google Maps Guerrilla

Another example, spurred by a post on a Twitter account claiming to belong to a hacker group Anonymousordinary Ukrainians are leaving Google restaurant reviews explaining what is happening in Ukraine right now.

Credit: Screenshot/Google

How you can help fight misinformation about Ukraine

To help fight Russian disinformation, first read verified news sources such as BBC News. Ukrainian media also publishes coverage in English. You can check these links:

And here is a list of the main social media accounts of Ukrainian government officials:

The second thing you can do is spread the word about the war in Ukraine and the brutal Russian invasion on social media, along with links to trusted resources. Hiding the truth has no place in the 21st century, and any responsible human being with access to reliable facts and information should not remain silent.

Maria Rosil is a content writer at a software company Euristic in Lviv, Ukraine.

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