How to spot misinformation about Russia and Ukraine

U.S.

(NewsNation Now) — It’s been less than a week since Russia invaded Ukraine but already propaganda and misinformation have found their way online. From a fake Time magazine cover to video game footage that was mistaken for live Ukraine coverage, false information is hard to avoid. But there are ways to spot it.

NewsNation spoke with John Silva, the senior director of education and training at the News Literacy Project, to determine how the public can consume Russia-Ukraine news responsibly without feeling overwhelmed.

Learn the difference

When seeking out information, it’s important to differentiate between news and something else, Silva said.

“The first step is to look at the language that’s being used. A standards-based news organization is going to try to report on what’s happening and try to avoid superlative-loaded language,” Sliva said. “They’re  trying to avoid language that is making a judgment, for example. It’s about describing what’s happening in a way that is fair and accurate.”

The NLP provides the following definitions of different types of content:

  • News – Informs you through objective reporting
  • Propaganda – Uses false or distorted information to manipulate your emotions
  • Opinion – Persuades you to adopt a specific point of view about an issue
  • Entertainment – Aims to amuse, relax or distract
  • Advertising – Tries to sell you a product or service
  • Raw information – Documents that have not been analyzed, edited, explained, checked or contextualized

“When you look at some of the things that those (Russian) organizations have put out, it’s very clearly meant to just completely distort the reality of what’s happening,” Silva said. “But it’s also important to recognize that a lot of what may be coming out of Ukraine is also going to be heavily distorted or slanted.”

Check the source

“When we see something — before we do anything else — we just have to simply say what’s the source of this? Where did this come from? It’s one of those things that might take a little bit of time to really make it habitual,” Silva said.

The NLP recommends going to a source’s website and scanning their mission statement or “about us” page for words like “independent” and “nonpartisan.”

A simple Google search of the source might also tell you all you need to know, Silva said.

“I can search for the name of the source and, instead of going to their website, see what other people are saying about that source,” Silva said. “I can search for details about it … and maybe someone is doing a fact check. Maybe there are other news sources that are reporting on the same thing.”

Slow down and choose wisely

Before sharing anything on social media, investigate its source and read or watch the full story first, Silva said.

“Slowing down with all of this is just so important because social media makes it so that we can see what’s happening in real time in a lot of cases,” Silva said. “Just sort of pause and try to filter where we’re getting information from. Because if we don’t, we’re going to see everything and that’s going to include all those bad actors.”

That’s not to say that readers should conduct a full background check for every piece of information they consume. But if it’s going to be shared online or inform our point-of-view on an issue, the extra work is worth it, Silva said.

“If you want to follow the things that are happening with the invasion of Ukraine,” he said, “you have to do a little bit of work to decide where you’re going to get your information from. … Because doom-scrolling doesn’t help us and continuing to scroll through and searching for everything, that’s a waste of time and it’s going to be emotionally exhausting. And it’s going to make you more susceptible to misinformation.”

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