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  • War in Ukraine and Disinformation Newsletter 29 March 2022

    29 March 2022

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    New Tactics of Russian Pro-War Propaganda and What Makes People Less Susceptible to It

    We selected the most relevant media and research publications that explain how misinformation and influence operations during the Russia-Ukraine war are changing the global information environment. The newsletter is a collaboration between the Programme on Democracy and Technology and PeaceTech Lab. It is prepared by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka with the assistance of Danielle Recanati.

    News Briefing

    Russian operatives spread disinformation by disguising it as fact-checkers. An investigation published by ProPublica identified over a dozen videos that claimed to “debunk apparently nonexistent Ukrainian fakes.” These videos have amassed over 1 million views across pro-Russian channels on Telegram and have had thousands of engagements on Twitter.

    One of the key aims of Russian pro-war propaganda is to shift the public’s attention away from people’s suffering. Instead, it aims to emphasize marginal and unverified claims amplified by junk news outlets, suggests Aliaksandr Herasimenka, a researcher at the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech), in his comment for the Times article that covers claims about the alleged lack of video evidence on the bombing of civilian objects in Mariupol. This besieged Ukrainian city has little internet coverage; journalists are not able to report from there.

    Telegram is increasingly becoming a key battlefield of digital propaganda. Western mainstream media such as the New York Times and celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger are expanding their presence on this platform to address war-related misinformation. At the same time, Telegram has also become a tool used to document and share war atrocities with the world, says DemTech researcher Aliaksandr Herasimenka in his comment for Business Insider.

    Yandex, the fourth most visited website in Russia, announced the selling of its influential news aggregator Yandex News following the announcement of EU sanctions imposed on one of its creators. At the same time, Russia announced a ban on Google News, a global news aggregator that reportedly did not reserve to the censorship adopted by Yandex News, reports Business Insider and the Moscow Times.

    Academic Research

    TikTok made all content posted by non-Russian channels unavailable to Russian users as pro-war propaganda is growing in volume on the platform. This unannounced restriction removes an estimated 95% of the content previously available to Russian TikTok users, claims a report by Tracking Exposed. TikTok is restricting information about the Ukraine-Russia war in a way that is above and beyond what is required in response to the Russian law on censorship. In parallel, investigations found multiple accounts spreading Russian pro-war propaganda on TikTok. “National content restrictions at such scale are unprecedented for a global social media platform, and the motives of TikTok are not clear”, note the authors of the report.

    Ukrainians with more analytical reasoning skills are generally less susceptible to Russian propaganda even if they generally harbour pro-Russian sympathies, argues a working paper by Aaron Erlich updated a week before the war. The authors hope that these findings will help inform efforts to develop appropriate interventions.

    Some top US podcasters promote Russia-originated disinformation stories, linking them to COVID-19 conspiracies. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, popular podcasters promote narratives claiming the US funds the development of biological weapons in Ukraine. 12 of the 13 shows that supported the conspiracy were in Apple’s Top 100 “News” podcasts. Many episodes propagating this false narrative drew on COVID-19 conspiracies.

    Amazon, Kayak, Capital One and other brands contributed to “unwittingly” funding disinformation within the context of the Russia-Ukraine war. The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) claims that this funding calms from monetising disinformation content through online advertisement.

    Datasets

    The MachineLearning4Peace Project reports incidences of #war events in #Ukraine classifying millions of tweets. It uses hourly data from the Twitter API to report the incidence of important events in Ukraine. Relying on several hundred key accounts to identify Twitter communities of interest, the project classifies millions of individual tweets into four event categories: civilian resistance (CR), human rights abuses (HRA), internally displaced people (IDP) and humanitarian support/needs (HS). The goal is to provide timely information for private citizens, NGOs, INGOs and policymakers working on behalf of Ukraine.

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