Russia-Ukraine Misinformation Is Running Rampant—Here's How to Spot It

As the Ukraine-Russia conflict intensifies, social media feeds are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with viral videos, images and information presented as fact.

With Ukraine trending on Twitter, TikTok and Reddit worldwide and new posts moving at speed, it's easy to get caught up in false content and unwittingly share misinformation that has the potential to deceive, emotionally distress and influence public opinions and actions.

But how can you help stop the spread of misinformation online amid the crisis?

Mike Caulfield is a misinformation researcher at the University of Washington. He works on election misinformation and media literacy and is the creator of the SIFT methodology for citizen fact-checking. He told Newsweek: "Often people don't understand the types of impact misinformation can have.

"People may be thinking a particular video should be shared because it shows Russian aggression, but that video may be designed to support Russian objectives, for example—to terrify the Ukrainian population, or portray an exaggerated military capability. The risk here is not only that one spreads content that is false, but that they become an unwitting pawn assisting in efforts that even they object to."

The simple but effective fact-checking strategy which Caulfield calls The Four Moves or SIFT includes the following four steps:

1. Stop

When you first encounter a post, image, or video content, it's important to stop and take a break. When things make us feel shocked, sad, or angry we are more likely to react quickly and share things. It's important not to share media until you know what it is and can verify it.

2. Investigate the source

Taking a moment to find out more about the source before continuing can help you to understand the significance and trustworthiness of the information. Do you recognize the source? Is it a newly created social media account with no followers? Why might this person be sharing this information?

3. Find trusted sources

Look for other coverage of what you're seeing. A quick search can help you see if an image or video has been picked up by a big media company or fact-checking organization.

4. Trace the claims

Even real images, videos and quotes can be twisted to present a different story. Look for a longer version, or an original post to gain all-important context.

Dr. Lee Hadlington is a senior lecturer in Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University. He told Newsweek: "We have seen lots of discussion around the use of misinformation as an offensive weapon over the last few weeks. The one issue that is raised is that trained experts are finding it hard to disentangle truth from fiction, even though they are on the ground, so the pressures on the normal person to filter through this are immense."

When it comes to verifying video or image content on your social feed, Hadlington agrees it is not always an easy task: "In some instances, material that is published will contain 'metadata' that tells the viewer when it has been created, but this isn't always the case.

"It's best to use a verifiable source to fact check and cross-reference material before you share it with anyone else – just because it appears online and seems to be real, doesn't mean that it is."

During major events, images, video and content from other conflicts are frequently shared and misunderstood. There are a few resources that can be used to help you verify visual content:

RevEye is a reverse image search tool that can help you check if an image is old, where it has been shared and if it is being used out of context to mislead.

The InVid plugin is also a helpful tool that works quickly to find and provide contextual information for videos and images.

Shutterstock also provides a reverse search tool that can be used to see if the content has been shared previously, or is being used in a misleading way.

Snopes is a fact-checking resource that has been debunking urban legends, hoaxes and folklore since 1994 and often shares well-researched fact checks on trending topics.

Metapicz is a verification tool that takes images and provides information about the source, timestamp creation and any modification information.

"It is important to remember that information can be created by anyone, for a number of reasons, and if you are in any doubt as to the truthfulness of that information – just take some time to asses it," said Hadlington.

"Check, check and double-check," he continued, "Often we see people share information because they think it is vital to protect their friends and loved ones, but often, if it is wrong or misinterpreted in any way, it can have damaging consequences."

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Ukrainian servicemen
Ukrainian servicemen get ready to repel an attack in Ukraine's Luhansk region on February 24, 2022. ANATOLII STEPANOV/Getty Images

Update 02/25/22, 2:10 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from Mike Caulfield.