Social Media in a Time of War

By Pittman Ware

 

Like many people over the past few months, you may have found yourself glued to the news following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And if you’re a social media user, you’ve probably been equally glued to your phone. In fact, many have pointed out that Twitter and other social platforms have been able to provide far more real-time information to the general public than traditional news outlets, which rely on a limited number of embedded journalists to relay what they are seeing and hearing on the ground.

The war in Ukraine is likely the first major war to be fully captured by social media. And while, platforms like Twitter, Telegram, and even TikTok are following developments on the ground faster and easier, it also makes us vulnerable to being misled by both intentional and unintentional disinformation. However, taking the following steps into account when following the conflict on social media can help you pierce this digital “fog of war.

  1. Take everything you see with a grain of salt. Check to see if the content you’re reading is from an account that’s been verified by that platform. Click on the user's profile and read their bio. This can give you an idea of that specific user's credentials, as well as their leanings.

  2. Be very suspicious of any account was recently been created. This is a common hallmark of bot and troll accounts. Make note of the location of the account, especially if the user is claiming to have first information from the conflict zone.

  3. Be very careful about what content you choose to share. If that content provokes a strong emotional reaction, pay particular attention as disinformation campaigns depend on triggering emotions like outrage to get social media users to quickly share content without double-checking its veracity. If you do choose to share or retweet posts with videos or images from the conflicts, consider adding “unconfirmed” or “not sure if true” to your post.

  4. Make a note of accounts you trust. For example, I took the time to create a Twitter list of accounts I trust, whether they be journalists, news aggregators, government officials, or just people on the ground, and then use that list when I want to check for updates on the conflict. It may not provide a constant flood of information but I know its content I can trust for the most part.

And, it bears repeating, take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt, even if it appears clear-cut. It's very easy to take even what looks like a clear-cut video out of context.


To summarize: be skeptical, be slow to share, be quick to verify, and take note of the most trustworthy accounts. This way, you can begin to learn to trust the information you're receiving—and fight disinformation.