Battling viral misinformation on social media about Ukraine

Jo Ling Kent, NBC News business and tech correspondent, explains how to steer clear of disinformation and stick with the facts of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolds on social media in real time, credible news sources, harrowing individual stories and misinformation are widely available in the same spaces.

“There is a ton of misinformation and disinformation out there, specifically on TikTok. The worry is, of course, that the good stuff is mingling with the bad stuff,” said Ben Collins, NBC News senior reporter.

Some users game algorithms to get likes, share and make a profit, and viral videos may have nothing to do with the invasion. One viral TikTok posted just hours after the start of the Ukraine invasion appears to show parachuting soldiers. This video, which has more than 20 million views, was first shared on Instagram seven years ago.

Experts said users should be prepared for an onslaught of disinformation from Russian leaders and state-backed media.

“The point, as always with propaganda and disinformation, it isn’t to overwhelm, to make it so that’s all you see. It’s just to sow doubt in your head about who the good guy is and who the bad guy is,” Collins said.

Social media companies are taking down anti-Ukrainian accounts spreading disinformation.

Over the weekend, Twitter banned over a dozen accounts that “originated in Russia” and pushed links to a propaganda site called Ukraine Today, according to a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Facebook announced it took down a “multipronged disinformation operation” headed by a Belarusian hacking group that spread pro-Russia propaganda. A Facebook spokesperson said the hackers used computer-generated faces to bolster the credibility of fake columnists across several platforms, including Instagram.

TikTok said it is using “increased resources to remove violative content, including harmful misinformation and promotion of violence.”

Collins said social media users need to take a second look at where viral posts are coming from.

“The number one thing I can ask anyone to do is just click through on a profile and see what’s going on in there,” Collins said. “If it looks too good to be true, if it looks extremely sensational, just do a little bit more due diligence, because that’s the difference here. The difference between everyone taking this stuff at face value is everybody coming together and not sharing the bad stuff.”