Online source evaluation important in wartime

7 March 2022

Portrait of Thomas Nygren

Thomas Nygren, a member of the EU’s expert group on fake news and online disinformation, advises everyone to be vigilant with regard to information from the war in Ukraine.

Hello there Thomas Nygren, member of the EU’s expert group on fake news and online disinformation and professor at the Department of Education. What’s your view on the situation that has arisen with the war in Ukraine?

“One should be aware that there is a propaganda war going on where lots of lies and manipulations are rampant. The tone on social media is quite strident and many people are making pronouncements and publishing posts on matters that they don’t themselves have any knowledge about. Many of them do so, of course, out of a desire to contribute and get involved.

 

“I personally carry with me that old saying about the first victim of any war being the truth. This saying is just as relevant today, and we must expect a especially big amount of fake news at this point. For propaganda reasons, lies are spread as part of waging the information war and it is difficult to corroborate information in the prevailing situation.

How do you think one should deal with the flow of information about the situation in Ukraine?
“You need to keep a cool head and be vigilant, even though that is almost inhuman in view of what is happening. The basic questions that need to be asked are who is behind the information, and what is its purpose. Is it factual information or is it intended to make you react, feel or do something? However, in this situation, that is especially difficult because it’s important to get involved, even though there is also a lot of information that has yet to be corroborated.

Are there any quick and easy methods for determining what is true?
“There are powerful tools and methods for investigating the veracity of the content in moving images, still images and information that are used by journalists, among others. But it takes considerable time and requires a lot of resources, and we ordinary folk mainly need others to do that for us. We need to mainly rely on channels that do their job, and to be more alert than usual when it comes to direct reporting via social media.

But shouldn’t we be used to evaluating the sources of online content ourselves?
“Unfortunately, repeated studies have shown that we are not as good at evaluating online sources as we think we are. One problem is that we don’t get any feedback from social media. When we believe something that turns out to be baseless, there is no correction that comes to us that might help us see our own limitations.

Last modified: 2021-02-14