The fact-check wars
In Hybrid/Digital/Information warfare you have the offensive side and their toolkit—IO activity—and you have the defensive side and their toolkit—fact-checkers, a strong independent media. However, much as Ukrainian farmers have nicked a variety of Russian transports and artillery in the past couple of weeks, so the offensive side in the digital sphere have learned to steal and exploit the tools of the defensive side, in particular the weaponisation of fact checking.
In another Digest entry, we discussed the ongoing information war being waged over Ukraine and how pronouncements that Russia had lost the battle were premature. Last week, our Digital Investigations team identified a number of Telegram channels promoting overtly pro-Russia disinformation under the pretence of fact-checking “the information war against Russia”. One—War on Fakes—was only created on 22 February but has rapidly acquired a following of more than 600,000 subscribers and counting – numbers which, when also considering the amplification it has received from state media and the Russian foreign ministry, have led many to speculate (but not yet prove) that the operation may be affiliated with the Kremlin. Either way, War on Fakes would not be the first bogus fact-checking account with links to state entities using social media to push the party line. Amid the ongoing war between Ethiopia and rebels in the country’s northern Tigray region, a government-run Twitter account called ‘Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check’ has consistently spread pro-government disinformation and propaganda while feigning impartiality, using branding similar to a legitimate fact-checking page on Facebook.
There is a broader trend here of authoritarian governments cloaking the promotion of disinformation as objective fact-checking on social media, particularly in live conflict or politically sensitive situations. In the former, the tactic can be used to muddy the waters and obfuscate claims of war crimes and human rights violations. In the latter—which happens closer to home than we like to accept—it can be used to manipulate public opinion in real time.
PGI’s Social Media Intelligence Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.