Propublica: Russia manufactures fake debunks


Senior Member.
This is an older item, dating back to March. (heavily excerpted)
Researchers at Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica identified more than a dozen videos that purport to debunk apparently nonexistent Ukrainian fakes. The videos have racked up more than 1 million views across pro-Russian channels on the messaging app Telegram, and have garnered thousands of likes and retweets on Twitter. A screenshot from one of the fake debunking videos was broadcast on Russian state TV, while another was spread by an official Russian government Twitter account.

The goal of the videos is to inject a sense of doubt among Russian-language audiences as they encounter real images of wrecked Russian military vehicles and the destruction caused by missile and artillery strikes in Ukraine, according to Patrick Warren, an associate professor at Clemson who co-leads the Media Forensics Hub.

“The reason that it’s so effective is because you don’t actually have to convince someone that it’s true. It’s sufficient to make people uncertain as to what they should trust,” said Warren, who has conducted extensive research into Russian internet trolling and disinformation campaigns. “In a sense they are convincing the viewer that it would be possible for a Ukrainian propaganda bureau to do this sort of thing.”

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen what I might call a disinformation false-flag operation,” Warren said. “It’s like Russians actually pretending to be Ukrainians spreading disinformation.”

A digital video file contains embedded data, called metadata, that indicates when it was created, what editing software was used and the names of clips used to create a final video, among other information. Two Russian-language debunking videos contain metadata that shows they were created using the same video file twice — once to show the original footage, and once to falsely claim it circulated as Ukrainian disinformation. Whoever created the video added different captions or visual elements to fabricate the Ukrainian version.

“If these videos were what they purport to be, they would be a combination of two separate video files, a ‘Ukrainian fake’ and the original footage,” said Darren Linvill, an associate professor at Clemson who co-leads the Media Forensics Hub with Warren. “The metadata we located for some videos clearly shows that they were created by duplicating a single video file and then editing it. Whoever crafted the debunking video created the fake and debunked it at the same time.”