Untrue claims about genocide and authorities in Kyiv supporting nazism are among the most common falsehoods pushed online amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to analysis.
NewsGuard, a US-based organisation monitoring the trustworthiness of news and information websites, said Russian state media sources are being joined by lesser known sites in pushing deceptive narratives.
It published a top 10 Russia-Ukraine “war myths” including an “attack” on a chemical plant in eastern Ukraine and claiming legitimacy for the 2014 referendum on Crimea joining Russia.
The warning came as Facebook and Instagram said on Monday they were blocking access to the Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik across the EU. TikTok has followed suit, while YouTube has blocked the broadcasters on its platform in the UK and Europe and Twitter indicated it would block RT and Sputnik in the EU.
NewsGuard said it had identified and is tracking 114 web domains including Russian state media sources such as RT, Sputnik and Tass but warned that websites with no direct links to the Kremlin are pushing false content on mainstream social media platforms.
“Russia employs a multilayered strategy to introduce, amplify, and spread false and distorted narratives across the world – relying on a mix of official state media sources, anonymous websites and accounts, and other methods to distribute propaganda that advances the Kremlin’s interests and undermines its adversaries,” the analysis said.
“Its government-funded and operated websites use digital platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to launch and promote false narratives.”
NewsGuard said the outlets pushing disinformation included anonymous websites, foundations and research websites with indeterminate funding.
The major social media platforms have said they are on alert for disinformation linked to the Russian invasion. The owner of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, has launched a “special operations centre” to monitor content related to the week-long conflict, while Twitter said it has suspended more than a dozen accounts that originated in Russia. YouTube and TikTok have also said they are closely monitoring content related to the conflict.
These are NewsGuard’s top 10 Russia-Ukraine “war myths” – followed by NewsGuard’s refutation:
- “Russian-speaking residents in the Donbas region of Ukraine have been subjected to genocide.” The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has found no evidence of this.
- “Polish-speaking saboteurs attempted to bomb a chlorine plant in Donbas.” The video of the “attack”, for which there is no evidence, was recorded days before it is alleged to have taken place.
- “Ukrainian forces bombed a kindergarten in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on 17 February 2022.” The shelling came from Russian-separatist frontlines.
- “Russia did not target civilian infrastructure in Ukraine at the start of invasion.” One day after the invasion, Amnesty International documented at least three Russian military attacks on civilian areas in Ukraine.
- “Nazism is rampant in Ukrainian politics and society, supported by authorities in Kyiv.” The candidate for the far-right nationalist party, Svoboda, won 1.6% of the vote in the 2019 presidential election.
- “The west staged a coup to overthrow the pro-Russia Ukrainian government in 2014.” There is no evidence supporting the theory that the 2014 Maidan revolution in Ukraine was a coup orchestrated by western countries.
- “The US has a network of bioweapons labs in eastern Europe.” The claims are based on a misrepresentation of the US Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program.
- “Nato has a military base in Odesa, southern Ukraine.” Foreign military bases are not permitted in Ukraine.
- “Crimea joined Russia legally.” The UN Assembly declared a 2014 referendum that backed Crimea joining Russia was illegitimate.
- “Modern Ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia.” Russia and Ukraine’s shared heritage dates back more than 1,000 years.