Fake viral images are spreading alongside the real horror in Ukraine. Here are 5 ways to spot it

Amid the alarming images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in recent days, millions of people have also seen misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.

Old images, rebadged on TikTok as the latest from Ukraine.

An example is this video of military aircraft posted on TikTok, which is historical footage but captioned as a live video of the situation in Ukraine.

Visuals, due to their persuasive potential and eye-catching nature, are an especially powerful choice for those looking to mislead. Where creating, editing, or sharing inauthentic visual content isn’t satire or art, it’s usually politically or economically motivated.

Disinformation campaigns aim to distract, confuse, manipulate and sow division, discord and uncertainty in the community. This is a common strategy for highly polarized nations where socio-economic inequality, disenfranchisement and propaganda are prevalent.

How is this fake content created and distributed, what is being done to debunk it, and how can you make sure you don’t fall for it yourself?

What are the most common counterfeiting techniques?

Using an existing photo or video and claiming it is from another time or place is one of the most common forms of misinformation in this context. It doesn’t require any special software or technical skills – just a willingness to download an old video of a missile attack or other striking image, and describe it as new footage.

Another low-tech option is to stage or pose actions or events and present them as reality. This was the case of the destroyed vehicles which, according to Russia, were bombed by Ukraine.

Using a particular lens or viewpoint can also alter the appearance of the scene and can be used to deceive. A close shot of people, for example, can make it difficult to gauge the number of people in a crowd, compared to an overhead shot.

Going further, Photoshop or equivalent software can be used to add or remove people or objects from a scene, or to crop elements of a photograph. An example of object addition is the photograph below, which purports to show construction machinery outside a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. The satirical text accompanying the image jokes about the “caliber of construction machinery” – the author suggesting that reports of damage to buildings due to military orders are exaggerated or false.

Close inspection reveals that this image has been digitally altered to include the machines. This tweet could be seen as an attempt to downplay the extent of the damage resulting from a Russian-backed missile attack and, in the larger context, to create confusion and doubt about the veracity of other images emerging. of the conflict zone.

What is being done about it?

European organizations such as Bellingcat have begun compiling lists of dubious social media claims about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and debunking them where necessary.

Journalists and fact checkers also work to verify the content and to raise awareness known counterfeits. Well-resourced mainstream media outlets like the BBC also speak out against misinformation.

Social media platforms added new Labels to identify state-run media organizations or provide more general information about sources or people in your networks who have also shared a particular story.

They also changed their algorithms to modify the amplified content and hired staff to spot and report misleading content. The platforms also work behind the scenes to detect and share publicly state-related information operations information.

Read more: What can the West do to help Ukraine? It can start by countering Putin’s information strategy

What can I do about this?

You can try to check the images for yourself rather than taking them at face value. An article we wrote late last year for the Australian Associated Press explains the fact-checking process at every step: creating, editing and distributing images.

Here are five simple steps you can follow:

1. Review metadata

This Telegram message claims that Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a sewage treatment plant with the aim of placing a chlorine tank for a “false flag” attack.

But the video’s metadata (the details of how and when the video was created) To display it was filmed days before the alleged date of the incident.

To check the metadata for yourself, you can download the file and use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Bridge to examine it. There are also online metadata viewers that allow you to check using the image’s web link.

One obstacle to this approach is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often strip metadata from photos and videos when they are uploaded to their sites. In these cases, you can try requesting the original file or checking fact-checking websites to see if they have already verified or debunked the images in question.

2. Consult a fact-checking resource

Organizations such as the Australian Associated Press, RMIT/ABC, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Bellingcat maintain fact checklists that their teams have carried out.

AFP has previously debunked a video purporting to show an explosion of the current conflict in Ukraine as being from the 2020 port disaster in Beirut.

3. Search more broadly

If the old content has been recycled and reused, you may be able to find the same used footage elsewhere. You can use Google Images or TinEye to “reverse image lookup” on an image and see where it appears online.

But be aware that simple changes such as reversing the left-right orientation of an image can trick search engines into thinking the returned image is new.

4. Look for inconsistencies

Does the assumed time of day match the direction of light you expect at that time, for example? Do watches or do the clocks visible in the image correspond to the alleged chronology claimed?

You can also compare other data points, such as politicians’ schedules or verified sightings, Google Earth vision or Google Maps imagery, to try to triangulate claims and see if the details are consistent.

5. Ask yourself a few simple questions

do you know or, when and Why was the photo or video taken? do you know WHO done, and if what you’re looking at is the original version?

Using online tools such as InVID or Forensically can potentially help answer some of these questions. Or you can refer to this list of 20 questions you can use to “question” social media images with the right level of healthy skepticism.

Read more: 3.2 billion images and 720,000 hours of video are shared daily online. Can you sort the real from the fake?

Ultimately, if you have any doubts, do not share or repeat claims that have not been published by a reliable source such as an international news outlet. And consider using some of these principles when deciding which sources to trust.

By doing so, you can help limit the influence of misinformation and help clarify the true situation in Ukraine.

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