Today, for young people, the Internet is the main source of information. It is undeniable that facts can be found there, but it is just as easy to come across half-truths, untrue or manipulated information intended to create a certain effect on the recipient.
However, it should not be forgotten that incidents of disinformation have been documented as far back as ancient Roman times. Nevertheless, the advent and spread of digital technologies has given this phenomenon new opportunities, so much so that Collins Dictionary chose the term “fake news” as the word of the year for 2017. Online disinformation has become one of the biggest threats to the digital space. According to a survey conducted by GfK Polonia for the Digital Poland Foundation, as many as 8 in 10 adult Poles have experienced disinformation, and the most susceptible to fake news are young people who trust social media, who are unable to distinguish on their own what is true and what is false.
The Internet is the easiest source for obtaining answers to questions. However, it is important to keep in mind that online it is easy to drown in a flood of information that is not always verified and reliable. This is because it is important to check and confront the knowledge we acquire. The topic of online disinformation is particularly topical in view of the ongoing war across our eastern border. The war in Ukraine is not only military action, but also information warfare. Trolls are trying to convince international public opinion, for example, about Ukrainian soldiers laying down their arms, the military going over to the enemy side or children saluting the Russians en masse. On the web, since the beginning of the armed aggression against Ukraine, one can find information about attacks and direct threats, which are false content. For example, photos appeared online showing explosions in Ukraine that actually came from Gaza. There were also photos of a Russian warplane shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force, which was actually an incident from Libya. And photos of a burning Russian military plane actually illustrated an incident from an air show in the UK in 1993.
Unfortunately, some false information is also being fooled by the professional media. It should be borne in mind that the Italian media gave credence to false content related to military action in Ukraine, which they then disseminated. A video of an explosion that took place in China in 2015 was broadcast by Italian news channel Rai News 24 TV in connection with the war in Ukraine. And TG2 Rai TV channel showed footage from a video game called War Thunder as evidence of a “missile rain” falling on Ukraine.
Presenting false information, also aims to influence people’s emotions. Among the graphic images of war casualties, a photo of an injured woman taken on Feb. 24, 2022, was shared online with the false accusation that it was a decontextualized image from a 2018 gas explosion. Disinformation has also been used for relatively positive things, which at first glance may not raise doubts in the viewer. For example, a photo circulating in the media of a man and a woman wrapped in the flags of Ukraine and Russia, respectively, suggesting reconciliation between the nations, was taken during a concert in 2019.
Another example of widespread deisformation efforts was a manipulated Time magazine cover, superimposing Hitler’s mustache over Putin’s face, and a faked photo of Ukrainian President Zelensky holding a soccer jersey with a swastika . In this vein, a quote attributed to Vladimir Putin also appeared on social media, according to which Russia is waging a defensive war in Ukraine against Nazis, not Ukrainian citizens. The post did not specify the source of Vladimir Putin’s alleged statement, but its very form corresponds to messages coming from Russia. There are no Nazis in power in Ukraine. Instead, there is evidence that Russians are murdering Ukrainian civilians: this includes reports from reporters, witnesses to the events, and satellite images. Disinformation on the Internet is one of the tools for pursuing strategic foreign policy interests. It allows one country to strengthen its influence and expand its reach, often at the expense of weakening or eliminating competitors.
A very glaring example of false information was the gasoline information that spread with dizzying speed in February 2022. As a result of the war, fuel deliveries to Polish stations were to be halted. In some parts of the country, there were queues of several hours at gas stations, and prices began to rise, up to PLN 10/l.
The information war waged by the Kremlin is systematic, far-reaching and destructive. It should be borne in mind that false and manipulated information does not spread by itself – it is spread by people. By checking information found online, you can stop its spread. How to recognize fake news?
- Always check the source – You should do a multi-step check of the messages you receive every time. First, verify the information in another source, and then consider whether it is credible. If it raises doubts, investigate the source itself. Thus, it is worth watching the information shared on official accounts and state channels, because there the information is more reliable. The latest and verified news is collected on the website of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and relevant ministries, or on the official accounts and websites of the Office for Foreigners, the Border Guard, the Police or the Territorial Defense Forces.
- Clickbait is a friend of disinformation – Increasingly, we are dealing with highly emotionally charged titles, or so-called clickbait, to grab our attention in a sea of other competing media reports.
- Verify the account from which the information came out – Be wary of profiles that are not genuine. Very often the creators of fake accounts impersonate people and institutions that the public trusts.
- Pay attention to linguistic accuracy – Linguistic calques and wording that sounds unusual are the first sign that from the information may not be true. Disinformation often comes directly from the translator.
- Rely on credible and reliable sources of information – It is effortless on social media to call yourself an expert in any field. However, keep in mind that this does not mean that these people have the knowledge, experience and competence to speak on a given topic.
- Search for images – With any search engine, you can search for similar images, which will consequently verify the veracity of the content and prevent people from automatically believing images that are created by artificial intelligence.
- Check fake-checking portals – if anything arouses your suspicions verify content through portals that verify such articles. Of the foreign ones, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Bellingcat.com are worth mentioning, while Polish sites include Contemporary Mythology, CrazyNauka and Konkret24.
- Take an interest in specialized publications and magazines. Such places are staffed by people who are actually experts in their field, and their knowledge can be trusted.
- Think critically
In addition, it should be pointed out that thanks to the application created with PAP, any Internet user can report questionable content to the verification team. Just go to https://app.fakehunter.pap.pl/ and download the FakeHunter plug-in to your browser. In addition, on Twitter, Internet monitoring company Brand24 has launched a profile @against_war, where users are asked to report to the site’s administration links to bots, trolls and accounts spreading disinformation about the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
It is important for each person to avoid viral spreading of information i.e. having interesting, often moving content especially through social networks. At the moment, many posts, recordings and entries arouse extreme emotions, so before spreading them, one should consider whether it is worth it and whether it is definitely reliable content. Sharing requires virtually no effort, and users often uncritically trust information provided by friends. Verifying the information by checking the personal details of the sender, the date and where the message came from will help stop the multiplication of fake news. Exercising restraint in sharing content about which we are unsure can halt the spread of panic-inducing false information. Vigilance is required at every turn, for war is not only hand-to-hand combat and falling bombs, but also cyber attacks.
On May 10, 2022. The European Union published a Declaration on behalf of the 27 member states condemning Russia for its cyber operations against Ukraine. The immediate cause of the declaration was the Russian cyber attack on the KA-SAT satellite network carried out on February 24, 2022, one hour before the start of the unlawful military aggression against Ukraine. Undoubtedly, the purpose of the cyber attack was to facilitate the invasion of Russian forces, as the victims included Ukraine’s public sector institutions, including the Armed Forces Its victims also included companies and business entities and private citizens.
In Poland, the CHARLIE-CRP alert level became effective nationwide as of February 21, 2022. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signed orders extending, until May 31, 2022, 11:59 p.m., the validity of the third alert stage of CRP (CHARLIE-CRP) and the second alert stage of BRAVO. The alert levels are in effect throughout the country. The alert was introduced by the Prime Minister under Article 15 of the Law on Anti-Terrorist Activities to counter threats in cyberspace. The tasks of state bodies related to the introduction of CRP alert degrees are specified in the Prime Minister’s Decree of July 25, 2016 on the scope of undertakings carried out in individual alert degrees and CRP alert degrees.
This means that, at the very least, critical infrastructure should be monitored more closely than usual for threats. Data on the network in the face of war may be at risk and there may be temporary system failures and limited access to data. In view of this, it is important to protect yourself properly and keep in mind that:
- the operating systems of computers, phones and televisions should be kept up-to-date, because this closes the path of possible access to devices by means of vulnerabilities that can be exploited during attacks;
- for your own security, it is advisable to use a password manager and have two-factor authentication. This will help prevent the spread of misinformation, in case someone breaks through the barriers to access accounts and services and publishes unreliable content on behalf of the account owner;
- important data is better to have locally and not in the cloud;
- a charged powerbank can never hurt, and will always prove helpful;
- it is better to deploy money in several banks, because when one will have a problem with the delivery of cash, another will already be supplied with funds at that time;
- it is advisable to carry cash with you, which will allow you to make payments when failures at the bank, but also among the payment intermediaries handling terminal stores, will be impossible or will take longer.
Misrepresented actions and posts are designed to divide allies, create a sense of powerlessness and surrender, when it is so important to take concrete action, support shown to those who have been attacked and direct help.
Research indicates that a sizable audience is looking for reliable publications. How does it assess their credibility? A 2017 Danae study for Press Club Poland and AXA entitled Trust in the Media. Sources of Information and Verification of Information showed that independent experts’ opinions (59 percent), backing up with scientific research (51 percent) and referring to various sources of information (46 percent) are key. Presenting the context of the issue, neutral language or even the popularity of the source of information are less important. On social networks, the credibility of the information and whether other Internet users will actively engage in promoting it is more influenced by the reputation of the user who shares the publication than by the medium that produced it. A study by the American Press Institute found that when material from an established news agency was shared on social media by a user who inspires trust in his or her audience, 52 percent of the audience was willing to consider it credible. When the same publication was shared by a user with less trust, only 32 percent of the audience considered it credible. When the same material was attributed to an invented medium, but was shared by a trusted user, 49 percent of the audience rated it as credible.
In conclusion, I encourage people to get current information from newspapers, television, news portals, where you can read analysis and interviews with experts. New media, such as Instagram or TikTok, should not be considered on par with traditional media. Messages published in them come from friends or influencers, which can never be 100 percent verified. It is also recommended that the shocking information be checked by two or even three independent sources (radio, press, television).