How to avoid propagating disinformation during the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Rally in support of Ukraine at the University of Washington Thursday. (GeekWire Photo | Charlotte Schubert)

As disinformation and Russian propaganda flood social media during the invasion of Ukraine, information experts are providing advice about how to avoid propagating false narratives.

Kate Starbird, director of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public (CIP), shared her views in a series of tweets Thursday.

Some of her advice: 

  • Check your sources. Check profiles of posters, their number of followers, and their previous messages. Don’t trust a source simply because your friends and contacts are amplifying it.
  • Watch for co-option of trusted sources. Russia has likely already “infiltrated some of our trusted social networks,” said Starbird.
  • Watch what your kids are seeing on TikTok. Are they seeing violent content or propaganda? “Russia’s network of grey propaganda creators know how to package content up for TikTok and other formats,” said Starbird.
  • Correct mistakes. Don’t just delete them. Also correct others online. If it’s someone you care about, contact them via a direct message or other quiet method. For others, public correction can alert their followers.
Director of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public Kate Starbird. (UW Photo)

Starbird also advises academics, newsrooms, and anyone who might play a role — even a “small one” —  in communicating about the conflict to protect against phishing attacks and to have strong cybersecurity measures in place, such as two-factor authentication.

“People are going to repurpose old content to get attention, gain followers, and manipulate the information space. Be skeptical,” she added.

The CIP provided additional advice in a post Thursday, for instance cautioning against repeating the language of propaganda, such as “special military operation,” which is what Russian president Vladimir Putin called the assault on Ukraine. The CIP also noted that gruesome images might be used to promote the false narrative that Russia is “rescuing” Ukrainian civilians.

The Washington Post has a similar set of tips, including links to fact-checking sites such as Snopes, PolitiFact, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.



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