Apr 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Ukraine misinformation is spreading — and not just from Russia

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

False narratives surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine are increasing and extend far beyond the bounds of Russia-controlled state media, according to new research from NewsGuard first shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Though Russian state-media has faced widespread de-platforming, many shady think tanks, anonymous websites and other outlets can easily continue to spread misinformation about the war.

  • OneWorld.press, for example, is a website that bills itself as a “Global Think Tank,” but doesn't disclose ownership, funding or control. It continues to regularly publish falsehoods supporting Russian disinformation and NewsGuard notes that the site's internet domain was registered in Moscow.

By the numbers: Misinformation about the invasion is on the rise, both in terms of the number of false claims being spread and the amount of outlets actively posting misinformation.

  • NewsGuard has identified 172 distinct sites that continuously spread disinformation about the war, including a number of anonymous websites, foundations and research websites with uncertain funding. That's 48% more than the organization had tracked as of March 3.
  • The number of specific myths being tracked by NewsGuard has also risen. It more than doubled to 23 false claims, the organization said.
  • Among the sites, English is the most common language. It's used by 61 sites, followed by 33 sites in French, 20 in German and 16 in Italian.
  • Spanish-language misinformation related to the conflict has also been surging, AP reported, noting that RT en Español is among the most tweeted Spanish-language sites for Russia-Ukraine news. (Spanish-language misinformation has been on the rise overall.)

Be smart: While most of the misinformation has been pro-Russia, there has also been false information that aims to show Ukrainian armed forces as more successful than they have been, or to make unverified claims about Russian actions.

  • Those claims, per NewsGuard, have been occasionally shared by Ukrainian authorities.
  • One example includes videos of a Ukrainian fighter pilot alleged to have shot down six Russia military jets. The pilot, nicknamed "The Ghost of Kiev" has been referenced by former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian public figures on Twitter.

The big picture: The findings show that Russia's misinformation apparatus extends far beyond its state-backed media to anonymous websites and research bodies that may skirt scrutiny and censorship more easily.

  • To that end, 55 of the websites that NewsGuard has so far identified as actively promoting Russian disinformation continue to earn advertising from blue-chip brands through programmatic advertising.
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