The first casualty of war is truth, according to an adage often attributed to U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson in 1917, the year the U.S. entered World War 1. Over a century later, as we live through an event that a senior U.S. defense official dubbed the largest conventional warfare operation in Europe since World War II, warfare erodes truth again.
NBC News reports that Facebook and Twitter removed anti-Ukrainian fake profiles over the weekend. The fake Facebook profiles were connected to a Russian propaganda campaign called “Ukraine Today.” The first fake profile was “Vladimir Bondarenko,” a blogger from Kyiv who spreads anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The computer-generated photo of him looks mostly real, besides a weird bend in his ear. Another fake profile is “Irina Kerimova,” a Kharkiv-based guitar teacher-turned editor-in-chief of the “Ukraine Today” website. Like “Vladimir Bondarenko,” her photo seems normal until you look close enough.
Disinformation Campaigns — One of the profiles is tied to Belarus and the other is tied to a group that operates in Russia and Russian-dominated regions of Ukraine, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta's head of security policy, in a statement to NBC News. The organization has ties to two websites called News Front and South Front that the U.S. government has designated as disinformation outlets.
The two websites, both among the Russian propaganda profiles analyzed by the U.S. Department of State in 2020, have pushed misleading articles that spread Kremlin talking points. News Front’s current headlines include “Putin has earned his trust” and “‘Our Russia has come’: residents of liberated territories thank Russian Armed Forces.” Russia’s manipulation of political narratives should come as no surprise after the country’s highly-publicized disinformation strategies in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
How many fake profiles are there? — According to a spokesperson, Twitter removed over a dozen profiles tied to News Front and South Front that were attempting to “disrupt the public conversation around the ongoing conflict,” according to NBC. Facebook said it took down 40 profiles related to the propaganda organization, and Youtube took down channels as well.
Real or fake? — People are bad at distinguishing computer-generated faces from real people, making the anti-Ukraine profiles dangerously believable. But not all the propaganda is coming from fake accounts. Other disinformation campaigns hack the accounts of real people and proceed to spread pro-Russia propaganda. NBC reports that the Belarus-based hacking group behind the account breaches is working for the Belarus government, according to cybersecurity company Mandiant.
As the war continues, people work to limit digital destruction. Input has reported that Meta and Twitter have rolled out online safeguards for Ukrainians to use as digital defense as archivists scramble to protect the Ukrainian internet.