5 take-aways from Ukraine’s rank in Facebook’s threat report

For years Ukraine has been a training ground for Russian newest disinformation warfare. Now this fact is being not merely recognized, but measured: Facebook’s data shows Ukraine is one of the biggest misinformation build-up spots on the planet.

Is Ukraine fighting lies with lies now? No, it is not the case. Let’s have a closer look at The State of Influence Operations 2017–2020 report presented by Facebook on May 26.

Ukraine ranked world’s 5th biggest origin of uncovered influence operations, the US, Myanmar and Iran preceding, and Russia leading the rating. Then there’s a divide: Russian, Iranian and Myanmar IO are operated by state and military, while in the US and Ukraine the operators are mostly PR agencies and politicians.

The US (considered the main enemy by Russia) and Ukraine (invaded by Russia) also lead the rating of countries most targeted by foreign IO. Examples presented by Facebook paint the clear picture of Russia attacking the US and Ukraine, and the latter attacking themselves. But with a nuance: the clients of domestic influence operations are often associated with Russia, making the operations foreign in nature. Such as ones serving the Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach identified as an acting Russian agent and sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury.

Similar reports come from Europe. The murky Russian network covering its Kremlin ties with its London address was leading an anti-Pfizer campaign just recently. It aimed to undermine public trust in European institutions and promote Russian own vaccine. But public reports on “the UK agency” offering money to bloggers for sharing negative content on Pfizer vaccine drew attention of the French intelligence.

Ukraine experiences this kind of Russian influence in nearly every field of public life on a huge scale. That’s what the threat report points to.

It reminds Ukrainians that:

  • The national public information environment is a minefield in an ongoing war with Russia. Media hygiene and resilience to disinformation are often a matter of life and death
  • Domestic PR market, accustomed to pay media for hidden influence, run bot networks, and ignore the origin of money, is a perfect cover for the Kremlin agents and makes the country even more vulnerable. Lots to think about for the expert community.
  • Turning to the Kremlin tactics and instruments is a bad idea for politicians and government officials. It will be uncovered and it will cause reputation losses (the ruling party Servant of the People and Poroshenko’s oppositional European Solidarity both went through this). But most of all it will hurt Ukraine. Lots to think about.
  • Ukraine stands to one of the world’s strongest disinformation attacks alongside the armed aggression. And Ukraine is getting better and better at fighting back, piling experience and persistently achieving its goals.

What does the report highlight to the world?

  • Ukraine is on the front line of the global fight with Russian disinformation. It has a lot to contribute to the global efforts and could use all the support it can get as a vanguard.

So, don’t let Russian narratives lead you astray. Facebook’s data shows not a setback, but a space for the next step in countering Russian disinformation.

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Non-governmental organization, Ukraine Crisis Media Center (UCMC), has been working to address the issue of Russian disinformation since the beginning of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2014. Based on vast practical experience of revealing the cases of deliberate disinformation, the UCMC team has learned that even when obvious fakes are exposed to facts, they usually do not change the judgment of the core of the targeted audience.