New outbreak of fake news on Ukraine

Tampered television banners, backdated videos of fighter jets or the diverted photo of a woman holding a dummy rifle: the infox around the crisis between Kiev and Moscow have redoubled their vigor since the start of the offensive on Thursday Russian.

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Only a few hours after Vladimir Putin’s speech announcing the start of hostilities, publications of all kinds have invaded social networks around the world.

There are of course very real scenes reported live by journalists present on the ground or filmed by the inhabitants in the streets or in the metro of Kiev, where many Ukrainians had taken refuge in the morning.

But there is also a proliferation of videos or photos widely relayed without sources or details, accompanied by sometimes laconic or alarmist comments on the evolution of the situation.

“Urgent Ukraine: Russian fighter jets and bombers flying over a Ukrainian city,” wrote a Facebook user in a message broadcast at 07:36 (French time) and accompanying a short 30-second video.

Seen several thousand times in the space of a few hours and relayed by numerous Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, this video shows fighter planes passing low over apartment buildings with the sound of a siren in the background.

“Russian planes in Ukrainian skies. The war in Europe has just begun…”, comments a user, relaying it, without giving any details on the origin of the video.

However, the latter has no connection with the current situation in Ukraine. A quick reverse image search on Yandex, the Russian search engine, brings up a longer video released in 2020 showing a dress rehearsal of the “victory parade” held each year on May 9 in Russia to commemorate the end of the Second World War.

Far from being an isolated case, this video recycled and taken out of its context, on purpose or by mistake, symbolizes one of the many facets of online disinformation at work for several years already with each outbreak of war or conflict.

For Thursday morning alone, more than a dozen viral publications were pinpointed by AFP verification teams. Among them, a video showing nocturnal missile fire which would have taken place in Ukraine during the night: it was actually the missile fire from Gaza towards Israel in May 2021.

Even before the start of the Russian invasion, disinformation related to Ukraine was in full swing.

In mid-February, the photo of a young woman sitting in a bus, assault rifle in hand with the only caption “life in Ukraine at the moment”, had gone around the web before being, she also, demystified. The photo was taken in 2020 and the weapon in question was fake.

Around the same time, in the United States, a tweet from television host Jack Posobiec went viral. He relayed a banner from CNN – “Putin will delay the invasion until Biden sends weapons to Ukraine so that Russia can seize them” – which had in fact been doctored.

This resurgence of infox likely to influence opinion is not without causing concern. On February 19, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, sounded the alarm bell by warning against an “intensification of efforts to manipulate information”, intended, according to him, to serve as fabricated pretexts for to justify a military escalation in Ukraine. Five days later, the offensive was launched by Moscow.

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