Information War: Fact-checking tips for times of conflict

In today’s digitalised, „always-on” world, news appears non-stop. Social media platforms are the go-to place for many to stay up-to-date on what is happening globally. This is never truer than at times like now when Russia is invading Ukraine.
The conflict is the main topic of every news outlet, while people share content – videos, photos, claims- about it on social media.
It can become overwhelming to digest all the information that we are faced with and sometimes can be challenging to distinguish what is true and what is fake news.

The war in Ukraine is fought not only on the ground or in the air, but also in the media.
Propaganda has always been a key part of politics and wars, but in the 21st century, it reached a whole new level.
These days not only governments and journalists run the narratives, but also ordinary people. The so-called citizen journalists are regular contributors to the tide of information on the internet, often releasing eye-witness accounts about events.

However, we need to remember that everyone has a different agenda, and often what we are being presented with is not the truth.
It is important to try and source news from reliable outlets that provide verified and impartial reporting on conflicts.

But for those, who wish to get their daily information intake from other places, here are some tips and tools to help fact-check and verify news.

  1. Beware of old and fake videos and images

Many footages are spreading on social media and lots of them are real, showing the atrocities that have been happening in Ukraine. There are also plenty of old or fake videos being shared on Twitter and Tik-Tok though, which are presented as recent recordings.

To avoid misinformation, the best thing to do to verify if a video is real is to look for clues: such as signs, weather, or if there is communication in the background then the language that is spoken.
Google Maps can be handy to check if the footage is from the location they claim it to be, while reverse image search websites can be used to figure out if the video in question has been posted online earlier.

This aerial footage shared is actually from the Syrian conflict from 2020, not from Ukraine

It is also common these days, especially during conflicts like the one in Ukraine, that deepfake videos circulate on the internet.
These videos are getting harder to spot, due to the developing technology they are created with, but there are a few things that can give away the falsehood of these footages.
The easiest way to identify deepfake videos is by looking closely at the person that appears on the screen. They usually have unnatural facial movements and awkward body postures in these videos, while the audio is often out of sync, too.

A deepfake video of Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been widely shared online

2. Check the source

Another important point to consider when we come across different stuff on the internet is the source. Is the account that is sharing the content reliable?
Some people may only share things to get some likes, while others wish to drive a specific narrative – with misleading or false information.
Currently, many pro-Russian accounts are very active in spreading fake news and trying to turn people against Ukraine.
The best thing to do when coming across questionable content is to check the profile of the person who shared it. Do they have a fake profile picture or none at all? Do they have a very small number of followers? Their previous posts seem controversial as well?
These are common signs of unreliable sources and accounts that have been set up by someone to promote an agenda.

3. Think before you believe and share

If what you read and see is not from a verified account, always think for yourself first if the content presented looks genuine. Use what you already know to try to put into perspective the new information. It is also helpful to check if there is any evidence of the claim in question or if any other reports can be found about the same news.
Keep in mind that sharing misleading stories just adds to the already existing chaos online, making it even harder to figure out what is real and what is not.

4. Reverse Image Search Engines

The best sites to use for reverse image searches are Google Images and TinEye.
Google Images is easy to use for a basic search. Just type in a keyword and hit search. If you do some more in-depth research, you can apply filters to narrow down the results. For the reverse image search, just click the camera icon next to the search box.
TinEye is specifically made for reverse image search. You can conduct your search based on a URL or you can upload the picture that needs to be checked by yourself.

5. Fact-checking websites

There are many fact-checking sites on the internet that can help debunk fake news, many of them focusing on specific areas, while others verify information sent in by people.
Google’s fact check tools can be handy to run a search on any topic by typing keywords into the search box.
It may not provide all the answers, but it is a great place to start the verification of any questionable news that appeared on social media.

It is everyone’s own choice where they source their information from, but if someone wants to be sure they get verified content, it is best to visit official news sites, such as the BBC. In any other case, people are advised to follow the above-mentioned tips to avoid being misled.

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