DUBAI: A new study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that 27.5% of Facebook posts analyzed “cast doubt on the legitimacy of images of Bucha used by Western mainstream media”, and more importantly, won “much more traction online than those that didn’t challenge the mainstream narrative.
Russian troops withdrew from the Ukrainian town of Bucha on March 30. As international media reported their departure, images of destruction, death and testimony emerged.
Media outlets, including the BBC, The Guardian, and The New York Times, have reported testimonies from survivors in Bucha, and Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian forces committing “violations of the laws of war against civilians in the occupied areas” of Ukraine.
“The cases we have documented represent unspeakable and deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
“Rapes, murders and other acts of violence against persons detained by Russian forces must be investigated as war crimes.”
Russian media and state officials quickly and profusely offered their version of events, claiming the dead civilian bodies were fake and accusing Ukraine of staging the situation in Bucha in an effort to tarnish Russia’s reputation. .
They took to social media, with Russian embassies in various countries reiterating the same message.
As mixed messages began circulating on social media, ISD conducted a study to understand which stories were earning the most online in different countries.
The survey analyzed the 10 most shared posts about Bucha on Facebook – a total of 200 posts – in 20 countries between March 30 and April 6.
Fifty-five of the posts analyzed, or 27.5%, challenged Bucha’s events, but these gained popularity on the social media platform, racking up a total of 208,416 shares. The remaining posts were shared much less, recording a total of 172,063 shares.
Forty-four of the 200 posts were pro-Kremlin and came from pages linked either to Russian media or public officials, or to pro-Kremlin sources.
Although Russian state media has been banned from social media in Europe, a pro-Kremlin interpretation of events in Bucha has been found in 34 publications in 10 European countries.
In Venezuela, the two most shared posts, and three of the top 10, came from Russian state media RT. In Austria, the four most shared posts were all pro-Kremlin.
The study also shed light on Facebook’s fact-checking and misinformation policies and practices. None of the messages contained a fact-check label.
There were only two posts with any label, referencing the source, stating: “This link is from a publisher that Facebook believes is partially or fully under the editorial control of the Russian government.”
The message pictured below reads: ‘Why alleged Russian war crimes posts in Bucha are a lie. Ukraine says Russian military fired on many civilians, but why didn’t- they were found only after four days?”
ISD analyst Francesca Visser told the Guardian: “It is worrying that in the aftermath of the massacre, the most shared posts on Facebook are those questioning the veracity of the images. It is also concerning that posts from platforms and bloggers known to spread false and misleading narratives outperform verified information.
Facebook responded by accusing the report of misrepresenting its efforts to combat war-related misinformation.
A spokesperson told the British media: “This report is based on a small sample and misrepresents the scale and scope of our efforts to tackle disinformation related to the war in Ukraine.
“We have the most robust system for verifying false claims of any platform and our fact-checking partners have debunked several claims regarding the atrocities at Bucha in multiple languages, including Ukrainian, Russian and English.”