Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, the line between journalism and propaganda has become increasingly harder to draw. News stories that beyond reasonable doubt have been entirely fabricated, have become part of the ‘official narrative’ surrounding the conflict. But while the false stories put out by both Russia and Ukraine are a problem, the more pervasive issue is the way in which publishers on both sides have reported unproven and unprovable claims as facts – claims which may be true, may be partially true or may be false. Though some publications have been careful to stipulate when information is unverified, this is overwhelmingly missing from mainstream publishers and herein lies the breakdown of basic journalistic standards and caution.
Reports that border guards were killed on the first day of the invasion because they refused to surrender, turned out to be false. The bombing of religious sites such as the Babyn Yar memorial and the Sultan Suleiman Mosque were reported as fact even after they were proven to be undamaged. The poisoning of Ukrainian negotiators at peace talks in Kyiv, was able to spread through the Western press despite both sides confirming that the claim was untrue.
While propaganda is able to be circulated and promoted online, lawmakers increasingly look to turn fears about disinformation into laws that restrict free speech and tech giants are doubling down on censorship across their platforms. On Thursday, Twitter introduced a new “crisis misinformation policy”, saying it will “take action on accounts that use Twitter’s services to share false or misleading information”. One exception to this rule is news reporting, its policy states that “in most cases, fact-based descriptions of news-worthy events, even if those descriptions contain or involve misleading information, is not violative of the policy.”
While provably false stories are not removed or flagged, we are beginning to see a sinister trend where critical and dissenting, independent journalism is being censored. Earlier this month the PayPal account of Consortium News was shut down without warning, days earlier the account of MintPress News, as well as the personal accounts of its founder Mnar Adley and senior staff writer Alan Macleod, were also closed and their funds withheld. In the weeks leading up to their removal from PayPal, MintPress News exposed how Western governments were “quietly” funding an ‘independent’ Ukrainian media outlet and called attention to the intelligence-linked sources of mainstream Western publishers.
We are seeing the manipulation of public discourse on a scale unlike anything before. News publishers with ties to state security are setting the national agenda and though falsehoods that enter the public discourse through mainstream outlets go unchallenged, unprecedented acts of censorship are being justified as regulating “disinformation”.
Over the last month Truth Defence has been compiling a database of false and dubious claims from the war in Ukraine that is critical of disinformation on all sides. We have begun to map out these claims in a timeline that can be found here. We are operating on limited resources, but will be updating this regularly and as new claims emerge.