Russia Tries to Raise Doubts With Fake Fact Checks

A confused population can be controlled, Margaret Sullivan writes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2022 5:50 PM CST
Russian Strategy at Home Includes Fake Fact Checks
Mariana Vishegirskaya lies in a hospital bed Friday after giving birth to a daughter, Veronika, held by her husband, Yuri, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Russians have said the apparent victims of the maternity hospital bombing there, who include Vishegirskaya, were actors.   (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Russia has raised disinformation to a new level in its propaganda battle over its attack on Ukraine—releasing purported fact-check videos that are false in a couple of ways. The Russian-language videos say they're correcting Ukrainian propaganda, Margaret Sullivan writes in a Washington Post column. But not only are the videos full of false information, there was no such Ukrainian claim to counter in the first place. For instance, one video says Ukrainian reports of a damage from a missile strike in Kharkiv actually showed footage of an unrelated blast in 2017. ProPublica found there was no such report to debunk; such a video wasn't posted on social media by Ukrainian supporters or anybody else.

"This is some twisted stuff: actual lies spread by what looks like the debunking of lies," Sullivan writes. The goal is confusion. "You don't actually have to convince someone that it's true," an American analyst said. "It's sufficient to make people uncertain as to what they should trust." That's how autocrats control their people, Hannah Arendt, a German political philosopher, warned in 1978. "If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies," she said, "but rather that nobody believes anything any longer." People lose the ability to think and take action, leaving them at the mercy of their rulers.

There are about a dozen of the false fact-check videos, which have racked up more than a million views on the Telegram app, so far. No one has taken responsibility for them yet, but official government sites are involved, too. One of the videos has shown up on a Russian government Twitter account. The Russian embassy in the UK tweeted photos it said proved a blogger was posing as a woman hurt in the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. With independent news outlets in their country shut down, Sullivan writes, there's no longer any way for the Russian people "to know or check." You can read the full piece here. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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