The growing tension between the Ukraine and Russia has drawn the world’s attention to Crimea. And it is also invading out lives online.
In front of a border control cars are lining up. A soldier can be seen in a corner of the photo, the sky is overcast and a few fir trees are seen in the background.
On a tweet by a Russian it is clear what is depicted: ”Hundreds of thousands flee from the Ukraine to Russia”, she writes.
The re-tweets are flooding in and soon the photo has been shared widely.
”The people of Ukraine would rather be in Russia than stay in their own country” is probably the thought in many people’s minds.
It might have been so. But the photo of a border control is as a matter of fact between the Ukraine and Poland. If you look closely you can see the town’s name Shehyni on the station’s façade.
This photo is one of many that has been spread during the early days of the conflict, but have been debunked as fake or taken out of context.
Online activist Martin Löwdin calls this a ”war of information”.
“Yes, it is definitely on. In this case you can clearly see how incredibly clearly social media is used. A lot of propaganda photos circulate, some are illustrations but also photos of Ukraine people carrying Russian flags and Russian soldiers being clumsy,” he says.
An article from AP gives support to Löwdin’s observation. According to the story, on Sunday Russia launched a propaganda campaign directed to its own people with ”vague but threatening news that seemed intended to scare the viewers”. For example the purported photo of the Ukraine/Russia border control first appeared on a news-broadcast in Russian Channel 1. Another rumour about Polish troops moving towards the Ukraine border was in fact a regular exercise.
Martin Löwdin says social media is used to reach people in other countries.
His job is to debunk the Internet lies
Irish journalist Eoghan mac Suibhne works in Düsseldorf, Germany, for news agency Storyful. He scrutinizes news that circulate on social media and what checks out he passes on to clients like the BBC, New York Times and Al-Jazeera. He agrees that there is a war of information online.
“Everyone who wants to tell a story always has an agenda. You have to know that if you are going to work in journalism, that is why we always try to trace the material we find to its original source. If we find something that is untrue during that process it is cause enough to doubt the whole thing”, he says.
How do you work?
“Say for instance that we are sent a Youtube-clip. Then we search its URL on Twitter and trace it back to its earliest mention. We try to verify it by looking at the background and compare with Google Streetview, and of course we try to reach the person who has posted the clip.”
Many other journalists follow the same process trying to verify information online.
On Reddit the forum SyrianCivilWar has been writing about Syria for ten months and on social media Google Plus Open Newsroom every day publishes photos and films from news events. On Russian blog Stopfake.org pro-Ukrainan journalists point out professional demonstrators that appear in Russian media frequently as well as photos of “Ukrainian armed extremists” who are in fact Russians in disguise.
Eoghan mac Suibhne says one mistaken publication can destroy your credibility.
Why should we trust you?
“When I was working on the war in Syria I was accused of being partial – by both sides – simultaneously. It is probably a sign that you are doing a good job as a journalist,” he says.