SINGAPORE: Russian disinformation campaigns in Ukraine have created true armed conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people and forced millions to become refugees, according Ruslan Deynychenko of StopFake.org.
The co-founder of the volunteer organisation which is dedicated to stopping the spread of foreign propaganda in Ukraine said Russia made “considerable progress” in instigating existing conflicts, hyperbolising human fears and masterfully manipulating the mass consciousness of citizens.
Making these points in his written submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Mr Deynychenko pointed out that Russian citizens who had fought against Ukrainian government forces had stated that their main motivator to fight was the Russian television coverage of supposed Ukrainian atrocities against Russian speaking citizens. Much of these reports were, he said, later proven to be false by members of his team.
Elaborating on this in his oral representation to the committee, Mr Deynychenko stressed that the existence of propaganda cannot be ignored.
“Ukraine did it for years, and it might happen with any country, that one day you wake up and look out the window and see people with machine guns who kill each other, because someone on TV persuaded them that they should hate each other,” he said.
“Our experience demonstrated that this is a powerful weapon and it could be pointed to any country at any time, very, very quickly.”
StopFake was founded in 2014 as a volunteer project by a small group of Ukrainian journalists. It has since grown to an organisation of about 30 people, and much of its funding, according to Mr Deynychenko, comes from the British Embassy in Ukraine, with some private donations.
THE IMPACT OF STOPFAKE’S WORK
Giving more details about the impact of his organisation’s work, Mr Deynychenko explained that over the past four years, it has collected thousands of examples of Russia’s “purposeful dissemination of fakes and manipulations”. He noted that it is “extremely important” that every article includes detailed facts on why the information is false.
“We also pay special attention to media organisations who participate in the creation and spread of disinformation,” he said. “This allows us to firmly accuse specific television channels, radio stations, and newspapers of actively participating in circulating propaganda.”
Mr Deynychenko added that based on the data collected by his organisation, the Ukrainian government implemented the court’s decision to ban the broadcasting of Russian television channels in Ukraine.
“This decision was a formidable blow to the impact of Russian propaganda, as it lost one of its main channels of influence in Ukraine,” he said. “At the same time, it became easier for the Ukrainian government to explain its position on Russian propaganda to its Western allies.”
In response to questions from committee member and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam, Mr Deynychenko agreed that it is "extremely important" to intervene and stop the propaganda in the first place.
While Mr Deynychenko noted that some European officials considered the decision to ban Russian television as “undemocratic” and labelled it as censorship, he stressed that the evidence of the “deliberate spread of Russian falsehoods” compiled by his team convinced many that this was “not about censorship, but about countering Russia’s informational war in Ukraine.”
He added that the Ukrainian government is currently in the process of developing a bill to combat fake news. “If it is passed, the law may simplify the procedure for punishing media organizations for spreading fabrications, including fines and the removal of their right to broadcast,” he explained.