Video, information from the Russian invasion could be used as propaganda, psychological operations
From videos of jets firing missiles to images of dead people on the ground, Twitter captured the early days of the war in a way not fully seen in previous conflicts.
“We’re getting a lot more real-time updated information from the war, but it doesn’t get through a traditional media filter,” said Sean Lawson, an associate professor of communications at the University of Utah, who studies the use of blogging and social media, among others, through networking military and secret services.
According to Lawson, the challenge is sorting out what’s real, what’s not, and what’s the intended message or goal behind individual social posts.
He acknowledged that it’s possible these posts could be used to steer audiences in a certain direction, similar to more traditional forms of propaganda and disinformation.
Although the Russians are known to achieve this through the use of their state television as well as their outside media, it is possible for any side – or even outside interests – to twist the narrative.
“What the Russians are doing is completely illegal under international law. It is a tragedy what is happening here, there is no excuse for it, but we must remember that in war all sides will use propaganda to boost their own morale – to try to undermine the opponent’s morale, to try , gaining allies and support from third parties, unattached people — and that’s how war works,” Lawson said. “Some of the stories we hear about the ‘Ghost of Kiev’; and the sailors on that island who told the Russian warship to jump, to put it nicer than the Ukrainians; and some of the other videos that have come out – the famous one now with the woman telling the Russians to put the sunflower seeds in their pockets – I mean, yeah, I love this stuff as much as everyone else, but that’s propaganda.
He said anyone can use the information, image or video for their own purposes.
“The Ukrainians are just as capable of making propaganda to make their side look good as the Russians,” Lawson said.
He said it’s important for everyday social media users to understand how it can be used to achieve goals.
“Social media and the smartphones we carry in our pockets these days are one of the most important tools for psychological operations,” Lawson said. “There’s the kind of broader propaganda and disinformation landscape that’s sort of used to try to shape the broader information environment. But then, during the actual conflict, you see more targeted psychological operations designed to try and throw the enemy out of their game, sowing confusion and chaos, lowering the enemy’s morale, and increasingly there’s social media and some kind of smartphone component to it .”
Lawson said he’s seen examples of this being done via both Twitter and Telegram.
“I think this is another case where you need to find some expert sources to follow online and on the news,” Lawson said. “Sometimes it’s a little easier with old news media because they did a lot of that scrutiny for you, but yeah, when people are commenting or analyzing how things are going for both sides, you really have to try and click and look and see.” , who that person is, what affiliation they have, what kind of expertise they claim to have. And if you’re not really sure, just take it with a big grain of salt, or just ignore it and wait.
As the war progressed, some even suggested checking the metadata of shared photos and videos to try to ensure their authenticity.
Lawson said he doesn’t trust anything he sees until he’s seen it posted multiple times by outlets he trusts, and he urged others to tread carefully when trying to open up about the conflict.
“Try not to contribute to the broader problem of disinformation and some kind of information space pollution,” Lawson said.