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What Can You Do? – Watch Out for These Warning Signs

April 02, 2019

Disinformation is a complex phenomenon with many tricks up its sleeve. Nobody is immune to it – but even though there are no vaccines, there are ways to become more aware and resilient. Here they are:


    • If the article you are reading comes from an unknown source, check its content against well-known newspapers. Sometimes webpages of governments or NGOs can also help. Random social media accounts do not count as a reliable source.
    • Credible media outlets have defined standards: a news piece must have more than one source and therefore, a comment offering an alternative view should be included. Look for that in articles you read.
    • Credible media keep one-sided opinions where they belong: in the op-eds.
    • Look at a few warning signs, used by pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets and those who relay them:

“Trust me, I’m smart!”: Facts are not dependent on a narrator’s intelligence. Unfounded claims are still unfounded, no matter how clever their claimant appears to be. If someone tells you to trust them (just) because they’re smart, that’s probably a very good reason not to trust them.

Whataboutism: An attempt to change the subject by redirecting attention. “Sure, Russia’s presence in Ukraine may be problematic, but it’s no worse than what the US has done in Iraq, Libya and Syria!”

The truth is somewhere in the middleand cannot be known for certain: While it may be true in some cases, it is often misused to obscure obvious truths. Remember: sometimes, the truth is black and white, and blame falls squarely on one side. Are Russian soldiers fighting in eastern Ukraine? Did Russian Buk missile shoot down Flight MH17? The answer to both is yes, not “maybe, but…”

Kremlin whitewashers: Someone who is sympathetic to the Kremlin and seeks to justify or excuse its bad behaviour at all costs, typically by blaming the West for alienating Russia and destroying the relationship. “Russia’s ‘aggression’ is simply a response to Western neoimperialism and the expansion of NATO!”

The Conspiracy: You’ve heard it before: “Don’t be naïve; the Deep State/the Establishment/the Corporations/the Jews/the Gay Lobby rules the world!” Conspiracy theories are by definition unfalsifiable, because they incorporate evidence that speaks against them, and thus become a matter of faith rather than fact. You don’t want to go down that rabbit hole!

Fascism: Russia’s frequent invocations of fascism are the consequence of the national mythologisation of the unique role of the Soviet army in the victory over Nazi Germany in World War 2. Russia is still fighting that war to keep its own glory alive, and sees mythical fascists at every turn. Yes, everywhere. “In reality, Ukraine/the Baltics/the White House/the US is run by fascists. If you want to know more, take a look at typical pro-Kremlin narratives.



    • Do you know this outlet? If it only looks similar to a well-known medium, but is not quite the same, it can be a warning sign. Do the website name and URL look strange?


    • Do you know the author and his or her previous work? A well-respected journalist always has a track record. Does this person even exist?
    • If nobody is signed under a news piece, it should make you cautious.
    • Beware of bots! If you see posts from very active profiles on social media (who posts 200 times a day on Twitter?), you should be suspicious. Especially if the authors are having language or syntax troubles and problems engaging in a real conversation on social media. According to a recent study, bots created 46% of Russian-language messaging about the NATO presence in the Baltics and Poland. The main topic of the tweets were mishaps that happened during NATO exercises.
    • When called out, disinforming outlets often use reverse logic and may try to argue that it is not them but you who is confusing or disinforming others. As Darth Putin himself tweeted: ” If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, denies it’s a duck, demands you prove it’s a duck, accuses you of being a duck, says your dog is a duck, that your friend’s cat is a duck and that all 3 aforementioned ‘ducks’ are Russophobic ducks, it’s a Kremlin duck.”


    • Sometimes an expert is not really an expert, but more like an “expert”, specializing for instance in the Deep State and ancient aliens. And foreign policy.
    • And sometimes think tanks that promise to spread progressive ideas and critical thought are just good old pro-Kremlin proxies.
    • If a story uses only anonymous sources or no sources at all, it should make you cautious.



    • Sometimes a great headline does not reflect the story itself. Read the article before sharing!
    • Jokes and satire have their own ways of expression and don’t have to be factual. This is why they are jokes or satire. Have a laugh and don’t treat them as the truth revealed.



European Commission: Euromyths


European Elections 2019

European Parliament Think Tank: Disinformation

IFCN Code of Principles




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