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War in Ukraine. “Child factories”, weapons from Ukraine in France… Verified profiles fuel disinformation

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Verified Twitter accounts, i.e. those with a blue stamp, are supposed to inspire trust – and it is precisely such profiles that are used to spread disinformation messages about the war in Ukraine. Examples of this type of activity were analyzed by the BBC Verify service.

A lot of misleading content about the ongoing war in Ukraine appears on verified Twitter profiles – observed Shayan Sardarizadeh, journalist at BBC Verify (BBC News’ fact-checking team) in a text published on July 9. Recall: now verified Twitter accounts are those whose owners pay an optional monthly subscription Twitter Blue. Accounts receive a blue verification badge and their users are offered early access to selected new platform features. Before these changes, introduced by the new owner of Twitter Elon Musk in 2023, the blue stamp for years (since 2009) confirmed that the credibility of a given account has been verified – today you can simply buy it. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether a given profile has actually been verified. Users’ trust in accounts with this badge is therefore exploited by the creators of disinformation. Below are examples of fake news as reported by a BBC Verify journalist.

False 1: Weapons for Ukraine used during riots in France

In one of the misinformation tweets that appeared on the blue-tagged profile, a screenshot of what appears to be a news site header was shown. The photo shows two rifles lined up on a cobblestone pavement, with a green box next to each. The headline read: “French police fired on by American rifles that may have come from Ukraine.” Below you can see the note: “updated two hours ago”.

Sardarizadeh writes that the tweet has been viewed more than a million times, and what is important: it was just shared using several verified accounts. The BBC Verify team has determined that the photo with the rifles has been circulating on the internet for over 10 years. In 2012 published them on a Russian-language military blog. That entry was a photo report from a shooting competition at a shooting range near Moscow, which took place on November 4, 2012 on the occasion of the Day of National Unity in Russia. This holiday has been celebrated there since 2005.

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False 2: Russian soldiers discovered “child factories” in Ukraine

Several other verified accounts were used to circulate claims that Russian soldiers had discovered “baby factories” in Ukraine, the BBC journalist also noted. According to these messages, children between the ages of two and seven were to be “factory grown” for organ removal and sale on the black market, or were to be sent to “children’s brothels”. We found posts with such content on at least three verified Twitter accounts. They were seen by over a thousand to 455 thousand. users.

Misleading tweet posted on a blue-tagged profile on June 23, 2023Twitter

BBC Verify has established the origin of this message. Such a thesis appeared on The People’s Voice portal – this is the new name of the YourNewsWire portal, which – how she assessed Poynter editorial office in 2018 – it was “one of the most popular fake news sites in the world” at the time. “He has previously promoted many false and misleading stories, including anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and false claims about the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting,” explains Sardarizadeh.

It is not for the first time that pro-Kremlin media are now promoting unsubstantiated claims of illegal organ harvesting and trafficking in Ukraine. In January this year, an example of such a narrative described EUvsDisinfo portal identifying Russian propaganda.

False 3: rockets on Kramatorsk were accidentally fired by Ukrainian forces

Another post with fake content was viewed over a million times published from a “verified” account. The author of the profile positioned it as a reliable source of information; in a June 28 tweet, he stated: “Ukrainian fighter jets accidentally launched a missile attack on Kramatorsk” (a city in eastern Ukraine). The missiles allegedly destroyed “Ukrainian military barracks where soldiers and mercenaries from abroad were supposed to be staying.” This tweet was accompanied by a photo of a dilapidated building complex – you can see a tall apartment block and a lower one, possibly housing commercial premises.

Misleading tweet from June 28, 2023 about a missile attack on Kramatorsk Twitter

There is no evidence that the damage was caused by a missile fired by Ukrainian forces and that the military barracks were hit, Sardarizadeh reports. On the evening of June 27, Russian rockets fell on Kramatorsk. At least 10 people were killed as a result of the shelling, media reported the next day, including tvn24.pl.

The photo used in the misleading tweet shows a pizzeria building in the center of Kramatorsk, which was destroyed by a Russian rocket on the night of June 27-28. Photographs documenting this place published on Facebook on June 28, Ukrainian police with the description: “10 killed and 61 injured in Russian attack on Kramatorsk. Police are still working at the scene.”

False 4: Zelensky threatens to cancel elections in Ukraine and maintain martial law

Also at the end of June, another verified account with a blue stamp tweeted: “It has just been reported that Zelensky is threatening to cancel the elections in Ukraine and to maintain martial law indefinitely in order to defend democracy.” The tweet was viewed over 345,000 times. times.

Tweet with fake content posted on June 29, 2023Twitter

However, according to the Ukrainian constitution, parliament cannot be dissolved and national elections held during martial law. This means that the current president and parliament will remain in power until the end of martial law, explains the BBC Verify journalist.

BBC Verify asked Twitter’s press office for comment on misleading posts by purportedly verified users – but Twitter declined to comment.

Author:Gabriela Sieczkowska

BBC News / BBC Verify, Konkret24

Main photo source: Shutterstock/Twitter

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