Harvard professor warns of misinformation in Russia-Ukraine conflict

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As the fighting in Ukraine intensifies, the images we’re seeing are heartbreaking. And as the conflict plays out on social media, it’s made it difficult for people to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

Videos from the invasion in Ukraine are all over social media, but what you see is not always what it seems. For example, there is video that appears to show a little Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier. It was shared by a French media site and shared throughout the world. Only problem, it was a Palestinian girl confronting an Israeli soldier in 2012.

It’s what’s called a Cheap Fake. Those are old videos taken out of context and published for your own political gains. “These are repurposed images and video that happened far in the past or very recently in the past, but nevertheless are not actually images of the war,” said Joan Donovan.

Donovan is an expert on disinformation at the Harvard Kennedy Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. She says videos and pictures shared online are particularly concerning right now because they’re so easy to repurpose. “Unfortunately, we’re in this information space where there is not a lot of verification and not a lot of ways to know where the information you’re getting is coming from,” she said.

Donovan and her team are also deeply concerned about Deep Fakes. Those are manipulated videos that appear to be alarmingly realistic In 2020, Boston25 News showed why many people were concerned these fake videos could be used to influence the 2020 Election.

[What are deepfakes? You might already be familiar with some – Boston 25 News]

The technology has been used by Hollywood for years. Think Forrest Gump or a young Princess Leia being added to a recent Star Wars film. They’re very easy to make and they’re even more difficult to verify in the fog of war. “It’s trust, but verify, which is an old reporter adage. But this is something that’s really important as we all become distributors of information,” Donovan said.

Donovan also says always be skeptical, especially of any post that makes your feel anxious, panicked or the need to do something in response.

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