Lies we’re told
Written by Gabe
Misinformation could simply be defined as “false information”. A certain kind of misinformation is called “disinformation,” distinguished by the fact that it is spread intentionally, knowing that it is false. The internet, while no doubt one of our greatest inventions, provides a great opportunity to spread both types of false information. In fact, it has become a hotbed thereof in recent years - both due to the recent pandemic and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine - but why even publicize falsehoods? What are the common strategies utilized to make fake news go “viral”? What makes us susceptible to misinformation? And what are some myths currently circulating about the situation?
Image: Misinformation, https://sharedassessments.org/
Motives for the spread of misinformation
There are many reasons to spread misinformation. Advertising oneself, monetary gain, spreading a specific ideology or political message are all common reasons. Some distributors of false information even believe themselves to be right - think of conspiracy theorists and religious groups that deny scientific evidence, such as ‘young earth creationists’. In this article, the focus will mainly be on political misinformation. While saying that the West doesn’t produce misinformation would be disinformation on its own, the most influential disinformers when it comes to the Ukrainian conflict specifically are Russia and its allies.
What leads us to believe false information?
A common reason we are often led astray and believe lies is so-called “intuitive thinking” - jumping to conclusions. People have a tendency to not think things through methodically. This may be effective if one is trying to decide what to wear or where to eat but it can be dangerous when dealing with new information. What group of people we perceive ourselves to be a part of, as well as our identity and ideologies we believe, also have an effect on our decision-making process - we are more likely to believe those who are from the same social groups as us - liberals are more likely to believe liberals, Christians other Christians.
Image: Drivers of false beliefs, Gabriel Makhoul
Strategies disinformers use
Firstly, we are more likely to believe “experts” - sadly, this often includes politicians or people whose field of expertise has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Disinformers thus take advantage of their PhDs and other titles to make themselves look credible. Secondly, disinformers rely on sensationalism and emotional effect - it is harder to think critically when you’re shocked or offended. Our brains are also more likely to view repeatedly occurring information as more credible - an effect known as illusory truth, that can easily be misused by sources of misinformation on social media.
Image: Strategies used by disinformers, Gabriel Makhoul
How to deal with misinformation
The most important thing to remember is to think critically and with deliberation. If you encounter a new bit of information about a controversial topic, especially if it sounds “shocking”, try to avoid intuitively jumping to conclusions, as your brain often tends to do. Secondly, try to “think like a fact-checker” - do not believe claims made on social media, instead compare information you find with reliable sources. Look into the originator of the claim - is that PhD really relevant to the discussion? Is the author a credible figure?
Common myths circulating today
With the how and why covered, let’s look at the what. There are many false claims in circulation about the current Ukrainian situation. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a general overview of some of the lies one can find on the world wide web (there have been about 23 myths so far). English is the most common language for the spread of misinformation on this topic.
“THE WAR IS A HOAX” - No, the war is not a hoax. Viral posts in Russia happen to claim that there is actually no war in Ukraine. This is a flat-out lie and there is no reason to believe it, the refugees in the streets being proof enough. “UKRAINE IS
BEING DENAZIFIED” - A claim originating from Putin himself - supposedly, Russia is stopping “genocide” in Ukraine. This is false. Russia is a clear aggressor here.“
UKRAINE STARTED THE WAR” - this is related to the previous claim. Again, it is untrue. The war started when Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24th 2021.“
ZELENSKYY SURRENDERED” - this is, again, false. The video of his doing so is a deepfake.
Misinformation comes from both sides
The West is not guilt-free when it comes to untrue claims, and Pro-Russian misinformation is not the only kind of false information spread about the war. There have been examples of Pro-Ukrainian claims with no basis in reality as well - for example, there is no sign that the legendary “Ghost of Kyiv,” (accounts of which have even been shared by Ukrainian authorities) who supposedly shot down several military jets is a real person.
Think critically - the fact that something sounds agreeable doesn’t make it true.
Image: MiG-29, the “Ghost of Kyiv’s” supposed plane, Dw.com
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Dw.com, “Fact check: Ukraine's 'Ghost of Kyiv' fighter pilot“ https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-ukraines-ghost-of-kyiv-fighter-pilot/a-60951825
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Verywellmind.com, “What is a heuristic” https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-heuristic-2795235