2014, July 5, the Ukrainian army entered Sloviansk city in eastern Ukraine. They gathered all the locals in Lenin Square. Then, they organized the public crucifixion of the son of a pro-Russia militant. He was only three years old. Refugee Galina Pyshnyak told this story to Russia's First TV channel.
In fact, this incident never happened. I visited Sloviansk. There is no Lenin Square. In reality, Galina's husband was an active pro-Russia militant in Donbass.
This is just one of many examples. Ukraine has been suffering from Russian propaganda and fake news for four years now, but Russia is not the only player in this space. Fake news is happening all around the world. We all know about fake news. We see it and read it all the time. But the thing about fake news is that we don't always know what is fake and what is real, but we base our decisions on facts we get from the press and social media. When facts are false, decisions are wrong.
A lot of people stop believing anyone at all and this is even more dangerous. They easily become prey to populists in elections, or even take up arms. Fake news is not only bad for journalism. It's a threat for democracy and society.
Four years ago, unmarked soldiers entered the Crimean Peninsula, and at the same time, Russian media was going crazy with fake news about Ukraine. So a group of journalists, including me, started a website to investigate this fake news. We called it StopFake. The idea was simple: take a piece of news, check it with verifiable proof like photos, videos and other strong evidence. If it turns out to be fake, we put it on our website. Now, StopFake is an informational hub which analyzes propaganda in all its phases. We have 11 language versions, we have millions of views, We have taught more than 10,000 people how to distinguish true from false. And we teach fact checkers all around the world.
StopFake has uncovered more than 1,000 fakes about Ukraine. We've identified 18 narratives created using this fake news, such as Ukraine is a fascist state, a failed state, a state run by a junta who came to power as a result of a coup d'état. We proved that it's not bad journalism; it's a deliberate act of misinformation.
Fake news is a powerful weapon in information warfare, but there is something we can do about it. We all have smartphones. When we see something interesting, it's often automatic. We just click and pass it along. But how can you not be a part of fake news? First, if it's too dramatic, too emotional, too clickbait, then it's very likely that it isn't true. The truth is boring sometimes.
Manipulations are always sexy. They are designed to captivate you. Do your research. This is the second point, very simple. Look at other sites. Check out alternative news sources. Google names, addresses, license plates, experts and authors. Don't just believe, check. It's the only way to stop this culture of fake news.
This information warfare is not only about fake news. Our society depends on trust: trust in our institutions, in science, trust in our leaders, trust in our news outlets. And it's on us to find a way to rebuild trust, because fake news destroys it.
So ask yourself, what have you lost your faith in? Where has trust been ruined for you? And what are you going to do about it?