Russia-Ukraine conflict highlights dangers of social media news

By Lexi Meola
Elm Staff Writer

Over a month has passed since Russia mercilessly invaded Ukraine. Many Ukrainians fled and thousands were killed in airstrikes. Others remain to defend their country.

Ukraine declared themselves a separate nation from Russia in 1991. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, they have been at risk of a Russian power grab.

In light of the conflict, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok struggled to determine how to carefully avoid spreading false information that is circulating online.

“Facebook and other platforms have…developed special protocols over the years for elections, from “war rooms” that monitor for foreign interference or disinformation campaigns to policies specifically prohibiting misinformation about how to vote, as well as for the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Washington Post said.

These protocols help social media companies determine what is false and what is true on the web, a skill that is especially important now. Russia, in an attempt to manipulate what information the public recieves about the war, began spreading falsehoods that social media platforms hope to suppress.

“On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law criminalizing news coverage that describes the invasion of Ukraine as such — rather than as a ‘special military operation’ — with offenders facing a possible 15-year prison sentence,” The Washington Post said.

In signing this law, Putin is limiting the freedom of speech of his people. Many independent Russian news outlets have closed and fled Russia in fear of retribution from reporting the truth about the war.  However, this law has not stopped some Russians from standing up against the Kremlin.

On March 15, 2022, Russian TV employee Marina Ovsyannikova tried to push past the wall of false information that Kremlin propaganda has built up in the past month.

“A woman ran onto the set of an evening news program on Russian state television’s flagship Channel One on Monday holding a poster reading: ‘No war. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They lie to you here. Russians against war,'” The Wall Street Journal said.

Ovsyannikova is not the only Russian willing to stand up against false information; it has been reported “…that nearly 15,000 protesters have been detained at rallies since the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24,” The Wall Street Journal said.

Since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, graphics related to the conflict have been shared by many on social media. News organizations have posted heartbreaking photos and videos. Users have declared their support for suffering Ukrainians.

But this is only one side to social media.

Out of curiosity, I searched Ukraine on Instagram. The first posts that came on my feed were photos and news coverage shared by news networks like CNN, ABCNews, and BBC.

However, there were also several posts about President Joe Biden and his “weak” response to the crisis.

One specific post, from user Glenn Beck, stood out. “We are possibly on the verge of World War III, and look at who’s leading America,” Beck said.

The user quickly shifts from discussing the Ukraine crisis to commenting on President Biden’s son.

“President Biden has been compromised and committed high crimes. Money trails [were] found on Hunter Biden’s laptop that lead to Russia, China, and Ukraine,” Beck said.

Instead of focusing on the crisis in Ukraine, many users are taking this time to criticize Biden and claim falsehoods about him and his family.

On Facebook, the first posts that pops up are different charity organizations to donate to. The next are articles from news organizations and then finally there are many posts varying in opinion about the war and the United States’ stance on it.

The crisis in Ukraine will not be going away anytime soon and neither will overwhelming news coverage, opinionated comments, or off-topic posts. It is imperative that we recognize what information is biased or simply untrue.

For college students and others who use social media platforms often, it is important to cross-reference information with reliable sources.  While social media can be used to find news and information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other current events, we must keep in mind how posts are monitored, who has access to posting, and where information posted is originating from.

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