Introduction to the educational material
Evaluating news about the war in Ukraine
During World War I, it was expressed that ”truth is the first casualty in war.”* Knowing what is reliable information during a war is difficult due to two primary reasons: (1) the warring parties want to spread their portrayal of the war, and (2) it is difficult to determine what transpires when people and journalists cannot remain in areas where fighting is taking place.
To understand what happens in war, it is essential to:
- Stay informed about what happens through credible news channels that convey factual and accurate information. Serious media have particular ethics and source criticism that they work according to, to present news objectively and factually.
- Identify manipulative strategies used to disseminate misleading information and misinformation. In the online game Bad News Game, you can try some of Russia’s disinformation strategies used during the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. According to current research, you can become better at identifying misinformation from playing the game.
- Be able to fact-check news that derives from the war and spreads quickly, for example, on social media. To check if reports about the war are correct, it is helpful to compare the information with credible sources. You can gain better control by doing text searches and reverse image searches online. You can practice this by doing these exercises about news from the war in Ukraine and through the News Evaluator’s self-test.
Now that there is a war in Ukraine, it is crucial to keep in mind that there is a considerable amount of propaganda from the Russian government that strives to illustrate the war to benefit their interests. For example, the Russian administration, led by Putin, does not want to acknowledge the conflict as a war but instead calls it a special military operation to de-Nazify Ukraine. They also call the invasion self-defense and an act to protect the Russian speaking minority (in a country with a president of Jewish descent from the Russian speaking minority). Via news channels in Russia such as Russia Today (RT), Sputnik, and TASS, the Russian administration wants to exaggerate the external threat to not appear as the party that initiated the war. They also want to magnify their conquests for the Russian people and hide the setbacks, such as the number of casualties or the outside world’s condemnation of the war. In the conflict with Ukraine, Russian state sponsored media has previously promoted false stories and disinformation that Ukrainians have crucified children. Before the Russian invasion, there were also reports that Russia was fabricating evidence that Ukraine, not Russia, was the invading force.
The spreading of deliberate misleading information, propaganda and lies is often labeled disinformation. The intent of disinformation in war could be to reduce the defensive party’s willpower and resilience of the opponent while simultaneously strengthening the will to fight among one’s people. Exaggerating and distorting information for propaganda purposes could also be seen as misinformation. The purpose of disinformation is to manipulate power or money. It can also be used to create chaos and incite conflicts. In a war, all warring parties are interested in angling the information to their advantage, making it difficult to obtain accurate information for journalists and ordinary people.
Disinformation includes the following:
- Manipulated content – that someone deliberately changes text, sound, or video so that the information disseminated becomes misleading
- False context – that someone puts, for example, a video, image, or statement in an incorrect context to mislead.
- Fabricated content – fraudulent evidence in the form of, for example, a video, image, or text created to mislead.
Furthermore, it is challenging to uncover what transpired in a combat zone during war. Consequently, there is also a lot of misinterpretation and rumors that could be incorrect. This type of information is may not be called disinformation but rather misleading information or ”misinformation.” Misinformation is inaccurate or misleading information without malicious intent.
In contrast to disinformation, it retains good intentions, such as the desire to protect or support other people. But spreading rumors, lies, and conspiracy theories that one believes in oneself can harm society, especially in times of war.
Misinformation includes the following:
- Unintentional dissemination of manipulated content
- Unintentional dissemination of video, image, or other out-of-context information
- Unintentional dissemination of fabricated content
Source-critical navigation of news from the war
To get an adequate picture of what is happening now that there is a war in Ukraine, we need to oversee the news source critically. It is useful to think about who is the sender behind the news – is it, for example, someone who wants to spread their propaganda or someone who wants to inform objectively and correctly? What evidence is there that the news is accurate – is there, for example, image evidence or eyewitnesses that can be trusted? What do other independent news sources say about the event, can the information be confirmed?
When the informational circumstances are ambiguous, it is useful to remember that the latest news is often uncertain. New unconfirmed information is more uncertain than information confirmed by several independent sources. News that comes directly through social media can be very compelling, but it can also contain more misleading information than information reviewed by large news agencies where fact-checkers work full time to double-check whether unconfirmed information is correct or deceptive.
We have compiled some exercises here where you get a chance to act as fact-checkers on some of the news that has spread about the war in Ukraine.
*qoute from Ethel Annakin Snowden (1915).