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Nuclear attack and magic. Fake news and manipulations thrive in Ukraine media

06.10.2020, 18:55

Fake news and manipulations are massively prevailing in national online media. Produced not only by Russian propaganda as main source. 

We analyzed all the news of 23 national online media, which were published during September 7-9, 2020. In this short period, we found 150 fake news and another 461 manipulations.  

The main topics of fake news were found out to be: social (39% - superstitions, magic, predictions of no name-astrologers on every facet of life, or "political astrology"), pro-Russian (34%) and fake news covering local elections (12%). 

As for manipulations, almost half (47%) was related to local elections. Running second were pro-Russian manipulation (17%), and running third were manipulation about money, economy and wages (16%). 

This is the conclusion of the monitoring conducted by analysts of the Institute of Mass Information in the framework of the INFOCRIME * project. 

We have prepared an overview and disclaimer of these fake news and manipulations that had been recorded the most often during the monitoring period. 

Fake news "Exchange of nuclear strikes in Ukraine"

"Exchange of nuclear strikes in Ukraine" and a number of other fake news came out in media landscape of Ukraine on September 9. They were about the joint actions of Ukraine and US aircraft in the sky in Ukraine. In particular, involving B-52 strategic bombers.

Initially, the text with fake news was published by the website of the "Opposition Platform - For Life". Then this text was shared by the MP from OPFL Renat Kuzmin on his Facebook page. Then the news got into the media, in particular on the Newsone website .

The story begins with an old fake news about "Pentagon biolaboratories in the territory of Ukraine". This fake news was massively spread in the spring of 2020. Now, they used it as a fact in the header.

In the story, the OPFL officials spread untruthful data on the issue of national security without providing any proof, and in particular, they spoke of:

-"Further escalation of tensions", which would continue since 2008, and "Ossetia conflict unleashed by Saakashvili". In fact, that year this was Russia that occupied the part of Georgia. And the flight of the B-52 over Ukraine aimed only to fulfil a patrol mission. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said it a few days before fake news.

-"Ominous omen", the B-52 flight would be used "for geostrategic confrontation, and it (Ukraine. - Author. ) is set to become another Afghanistan."

-Turning Ukraine into "lifeless territory" as a result of these joint exercises.

Assertion about the threat of "nuclear strikes on the territory of Ukraine" looks like the biggest fake news. No country previously flown by US B-52 bombers has since become a site of nuclear strikes.

All these fake news and manipulations in the original source are nothing but an element of news warfare.

Fake news "Ukraine is responsible for water supply to Crimea"

The Russian mass media distorted the position of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on responsibility for providing water to the inhabitants of the occupied Crimea. According to the statement, the responsibility for water supply in the Crimea was placed on the occupying power, ie Russia. Instead, the Russian media distorted the phrase, adding that Ukraine was also responsible for it. At the same time, ZIK website published the story with a headline saying that Russia and Ukraine have a joint or commensurate responsibility, which was fake news.

This is not the first time that Ukraine mass media have found themselves in a situation where the statements made by foreigners came out in the manipulative news. This happens because many editorial offices are used to take the relevant news from Russian sources, which manipulate primary sources in favor of propaganda to the benefit of Russian Federation.

Fake news "facial plastic surgery that Poroshenko made"

On September 8, the Klymenko Time telegram channel reported that Petro Poroshenko had undergone facial plastic surgery. At the same time, they referred to some anonymous sources - specialists in the field of plastic surgery. According to the research methodology, such messages have signs of fake news.

This information appeared for less than half an hour in the news of the site "Znaj.ua". More extensive story came out on “Vesti” website. Some doubtful sources are also cited: "Some experts say that the MP had recourse to a plastic surgeon."

There is also fake news that can be verified. The story said that Poroshenko was in a clinic, a weight loss program which cost 3,600 euros per day. Instead, the price at the clinic's website was 3,600 euros a week.

With any reliable sources, the author supposed that Poroshenko would have lost weight thanks to "Zen diet", based on the idea of ​​"Zen Buddhism", but in the end the authour said that Poroshenko "continued to profess rather" The Art of War "Sun Tzu". But, this report is not supported by any fact.

And in the story mentioned some anonymous sources like "surgeons are convinced", "experts do not exclude" and "stylists assert". Referring to these unnamed experts, the author said that Poroshenko's plastic surgery failed and he will have to redo it.

All this was fake news smear campaign-like, as the experts of the project found, which did not correspond to reality.

Fake news "Novichok has a 100 percent mortality"

One of the developers of "Novichok" poison Leonid Rink said that it has a 100 percent mortality rate, and if Navalnyy came out of coma, that "meant, that was not "Novichok”. Mr. Navalny could not have survived a “Novichok” poisoning, he said. “The comrade would be resting in a different place now,” he added. "This assertion became basis for the news on the site" reporter ". However, they failed to cite another well-known case of people surviving after “Novichok” poisoning. This was the well-known Salisbury poisoning. So the news had a blatant fake news that could have been refuted by some phrases in background. But the editorial board failed to do it.

In total, the story of Oleksiy Navalny's poisoning became a source of manipulation on eight Ukraine news websites. These news had both fake news and manipulations. All these stories are based on Russian primary sources.

Fake news "Teachers' salaries will be cut"

On September 5, the Trade Union of Educators and Scientists issued a statement that the Ministry of Education had developed a draft concept for reforming the remuneration of teachers. This concept would revise provisions of the law on education and repeal a number of government regulations on the remuneration of educators. The union claimed that such initiatives were announced at a meeting of the relevant parliamentary committee. All of them are aimed at reducing wages, as the union's press service said.

This statement was used as source for news on websites "Strana.ua", "Khvylya"From-ua , Znaj.ua.

This report was refuted by the Ministry of Education and Science. Ukrainska Pravda reported the information from officials. Acting Minister Serhiy Shkarlet said that a working group had been set up to develop a draft concept. And only "the first constituent meeting took place recently", so there is no text of the draft concept yet. Moreover, the salaries of educators whose salaries are paid according to the Unified Tariff Grid will increase by 30% during 2021.

Other sites could also ask for official comments to balance the information.

Fake sociology

Ratings of candidates based on fake opinion polls could be explained with the start of the election campaign.

All the fake opinion polls identified by IMI concerned the election of the mayor of Kyiv and put Andriy Palchevsky in second place.

So, the member of pseudo sociologists " Center of social development " would have carried out sociological survey in July. According to those "results", the difference between Klitschko and Palchevsky was only 1%, and the third position was taken by Mykola Tomenko with a rate of 10.5%. This "center" has been caught on over-estimation of Palchevsky's ratings since the winter of this year. Despite this, the Politeka website made two news items based on these results - on September 7 and September 9 . It is also worth noting that the infographics of this study are posted on social networks as an advertising.

On September 9, another social survey came out. It was noted that it was conducted by the Center for Social Monitoring. Previously, this center was one of those whom they had encouraged to trust. But this study from September 9 was pinpointed as pseudo-sociologic. This was due to the overestimation of Palchevsky rating once more.

Another fake social survey also overestimated rating of Palchevsky. It was not even conducted by the sociological service. The source was a telephone survey allegedly conducted by Politeka. The results of this study were published by the site "Znaj.ua". In such cases, newsrooms should have doubts about whether another media outlet was able to conduct its own social research, or whether it had a staff of professional sociologists.

Politics and jeansa

The study period marked the beginning of the local election campaign. It can be assumed that this is the reason for the large number of manipulations related to the topic of politics and elections - 243 news items

The sources for stories with such manipulations became statements the politicians made, their posts they published on social networks, statements of parties that got into the media without any verification or background.

In particular, the monitoring revealed some manipulative news featuring the following politicians: Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov ; MP from Batkivshchyna Valentyn Nalyvaichenko ; candidate for the post of Kyiv mayor Mykola Tomenko ; co-chairman of the Nash Krai party Serhiy Shakhov ; leader of the OPFL party Viktor Medvedchuk ; former Deputy Head of the Yanukovych-era Presidential Administration Andriy Portnov ; MP from OPFL Natalia Korolevska ; Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko ; candidate for the position of mayor from Ecoparty Boryslav Bereza ; Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko; candidate for the position of mayor from OPFL Oleksander Popov ; candidate for position of Kyiv Mayor from “Servant of the People” Iryna Vereshchuk  ; candidate for the position of mayor from the party itself Andriy Palchevsky ; MP from European Solidarity Oleksiy Honcharenko ; MP from OPFL Renat Kuzmin ; party " Opposition Platform - For Life ".

As can be seen from this list, much of stories are published in mass media on behalf of candidates for local government positions.

Russia's propaganda

The monitoring revealed some news that was identified as Russian propaganda.

One example of Russian propaganda was the coverage of developments in the Donbass near the village of Shumy. The party "Opposition Platform - For Life" posted a press release in which it blamed Volodymyr Zelensky and his entourage for disrupting the truce. Once again, within the framework of Russian propaganda, the responsibility for the war in Donbass lies with Ukraine. With no changes, clarifications and precision this statement was published in the news of the site "Podrobnosti". In this way, the fake news was spread.

In such cases, you need to pay attention whom the information about the events in Donbass region traces roots back from. Does the source have reliable information, does it refer to Russia and the occupying forces in its statement.

Propaganda of Belarus

During the monitored period, Aleksnder Lukashenko met with Russian press. This conversation became a source of manipulation and fake news, which also got to Ukraine mass media. In total, the project experts identified 31 news items containing Belarusian propaganda.

In particular, a fake news from Lukashenko was published in the news of the Vesti website : "If I leave, my supporters will be massacred!". At the same time, the news item failed to say that the protesters in Belarus were behaving as peacefully as possible, and that it was the security forces who were using violent force.

Another fake news from Lukashenko was saying that Maria Kolesnikova was allegedly thrown out of a car on the border with Ukraine by her colleagues. This manipulation got into the news of the site "Strana". At the same time, the news failed to mention that the oppositionist was detained by unknown individuals in Minsk, after which she went missing.

And Lukashenko's words about the management of protests in Belarus from Ukraine accompanied the news on the site "Podrobnosti". Lukashenko mentioned Ukraine along with several other countries - the United States, Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. And allegedly because of military exercises at the border, Lukashenko was forced to "mobilize half of the Belarusian army in order to resist this."

All these statements fall under the definition of "propaganda". Depending on how Lukashenko's statements were mentioned in the media, IMI experts described them as manipulation or as fake news and misinformation.

Society must know the views of dictators. But when preparing news items, newsrooms need to carefully write the news, provide more background and explanations. The reader must clearly understand that the statements of the same Lukashenko are not the final fact. And they are often voiced and disseminated precisely for manipulation and propaganda.

Another fake news arose due to unreliable sociological research. For example, From-ua squestioned its readers about who they support in the conflict in Belarus. Among the readers were 46% of those who supported Lukashenko. As a result, it was concluded that "Ukrainians wish to have a dictator as its head of state." This is a fake news for two reasons. First, the poll on the site can never be perceived as a social survey that reveals the mood of all Ukrainians. Secondly, the question was not "do you want to see a dictator as President of Ukraine." This is a manipulative conclusion that has turned into a fake news.

* The project is implemented by the NGO "Institute of Mass Information" and funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation under the program of support for independent media in the Eastern Partnership countries, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Commonwealth of Great Britain.

The monitoring covered 23 national online media: Correspondent, Strana, Khvylya, From-ua, Ukrainsky Novyny, Politeka, Znaj, Podrobnosti, Obozrevatel, 112, ZIK, Newsone, Pryamyy, KP in Ukraine, Vesti, Apostrophe, Ukrainska pravda, Censor, The 24th Channel, RBC-Ukraine, TSN, Gordon, NV.

The monitoring methodology is available on the IMI website.

By Oleksiy Bratushchak, Oksana Romanyuk

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