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A fake, a manipulation, and propaganda: how to distinguish them?

A fake, a manipulation, and propaganda: how to distinguish them?

Why is it important to distinguish these terms?

On Hromadske Radio, we discussed at great length how Russian propaganda acts as a tool in Russia’s war against Ukraine, even before the full-scale invasion.

We continue to speak about this now when Russia no longer hides the fact that its military commits war crimes on our territory, and its airstrikes destroy our cities and villages.

Everyone lies in Russia. Propagandists, ministers, the president, generals, opinion leaders, and people on the street. They lie on TV, on international platforms, and to themselves. Fake news was not invented by the Russians, nor was propaganda, but they took advantage of it! This is especially the case in the long-term war against Ukraine.

What is a fake, manipulation, and propaganda and why should these concepts be distinguished? Olha Yurkova, a journalist, media trainer, and co-founder of StopFake, explains.

Olha Yurkova: A fake is usually fake news. This is not just a lie, but information that is false and passed off as news.

Manipulation does not always involve a fake. It is deliberately distorted information that forms a certain attitude towards a certain problem, person, or phenomenon. This can be the provision of incomplete information, the deliberate concealment of a certain aspect of it, the shift of emphasis in the message, and the removal of context. The result is a distorted sense of reality for an individual.

Propaganda is a form of communication that aims to influence society’s attitude to a problem, situation or phenomenon. It also uses fakes and manipulations, and sometimes it may be based on true information.

How does a fake work in Russia’s information war against Ukraine?

Olha Yurkova: A fake is a weapon in the information war. Russia is a world power when it comes to the spread of disinformation. It uses disinformation to influence the internal affairs of other countries, one of which is Ukraine. It is enough to view a fake, without even believe it, for it to influence an individual. When there are many of them, they have a cumulative effect. For 8 years, «StopFake» has refuted more than 5 thousand fakes. All these fake stories promote certain messages, ideas, and narratives about Ukraine. We identified 18 such narratives, that consciously form the image of Ukraine.

  • Most of these fakes are about the Ukrainian army: about its «weakness» and «cruelty». During the war, these types of fakes intensified. This is now the main aim of Russian propaganda.
  • Another target of Russian fakes is the president of Ukraine, regardless of who it is at the moment. The idea of ​​this is clear — to show that the state’s most important position is occupied by a person who is «unfit», a «traitor» or someone who «does not value the citizens of their country.»
  • Ukrainian authorities and institutions are also being targeted. An example of this is the church. Reforms are also targeted, especially if they are successful.
  • Another well-known narrative is that Ukraine is a «Nazi state». Dehumanization is included in this process when the enemy is depicted not as a person, but as a wild animal that they want to kill.

The signs of a fake

  • Emotionality — categorical judgments, calls to action, emotionally colored words. Junk sites use all of these in their headlines.
  • Non-specific answers to basic questions: who, what did they do, where, when? Photos aren’t included either. If there is no such information that can be verified, then it is fake or a manipulation.
  • No sources and no references.

It is also important to pay attention to whether the source has access to the given information and what are its motives for sharing it. These are some of the indirect signs: the news story is not being distributed by serious media sources and it artificially combines unrelated facts.

Why do we still believe in fakes?

Olha Yurkova: Belief in fakes is explained by human psychology. Fake news attracts people with its novelty. Fakes appear differently in news feeds as they always sound and seem more interesting. They provoke a larger emotional response. We know that people first respond to these stories emotionally, and only afterwards they respond intellectually. The book «Thinking Fast and Slow» by psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman is about this issue. You must force yourself to consciously switch from the mode of emotions to the mode of thinking. There is also a concept known as “group solidarity». Here, we share fakes shared by our friends and acquaintances on social networks. We also spread those fakes upon which we have formed certain views.

In general, people are now more cautious about information. However, fakes are evolving in today’s day and age.

Let’s not underestimate the power of Russian propaganda. To better understand the methods of information warfare of the Russian Federation, listen to the joint podcast of Hromadske Radio and UKMC’s «Thinking is a basic function». Listen and think critically.


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