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Russian/Ukrainian Disinformation warfare: No Holds Barred

This week Meta and YouTube have taken down a deepfake video of Ukraine’s president Zelensky talking of surrendering to Russia. As both sides have used manipulated media, what do these videos reveal about the state of misinformation in the conflict?

The Russian/Ukrainian warfare is synchronously taking place on a double ground, both military and digitally, the world is witnessing, despite Russia’s attempts to manipulate the truth and to silence all kinds of activists, how powerful online communication tools and dynamics can be. In fact, as a consequence of the modern fragmented media landscape, news about major global events is nowadays received and analyzed differently. As such, extreme caution, and fact-checking are required as proofs of false news are numerous.

Ever since this invasion took taking place in a widely digital 2022 world, propaganda experts realize that this time “Russia’s online propaganda and influence apparatus has not been nearly as sophisticated or effective with non-Russians as many thought”. In fact, Russian influence attempts have been relatively convincing in the past, especially in the Syrian war narrative as well as in creating the Corona vaccination confusion. This was perhaps because online audiences and experts did not have the proper awareness, skills, and access to tools to realize and unveil how devious and lazy the Russian information strategy was and still is.

In fact, the disinformation campaign’s strategy might look different from one subject/event to another but the aims remain the same and the public audience should not be fooled in general or in this particular context by the Russian patriotic centered tales nor most of the Ukrainian emotive stories created by scammers.

Luckily, fact-checking journalists are reacting fast enough and we receive the debunked news as fast as the false. Just yesterday, March 16th, a deepfake video of Zelensky was debunked immediately: Ukraine 24, a Ukrainian news channel, has published a post in which it asserts that its live broadcast and website have been hacked. Shortly before, a very surprising video of President Zelensky was broadcast by the media, in which he declares, among other things, “to give back the Donbass” and calls on Ukrainians to “give up their arms” and to return to their families. Shortly after, Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video on his Instagram account in which he completely denies the remarks broadcast by Ukraine 24.

On the other hand, mainstream media must be also careful with their reporting, in fact, only a few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many sources of information supposedly reliable have already declared that Ukraine is winning the war or at least the information war, as opposed to a shamelessly gloomy Russian information strategy. Meanwhile, several propaganda experts and trained investigators call for vigilance by explaining that it is too early to jump into conclusions as the battle has just started.

The current information warfare by Russia has proved so far how easy changing the narrative and creating an alternative reality can be. This flood of information channels is a powerful double-edged sword. The key question here is: will Putin’s alternative realities on Ukraine together with the ban of the main international social media in Russia work this time as it worked in Syria and help him win the war of the public support and on the ground?

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