UNIT 4. DISINFORMATION AND MANIPULATION
Part B: Manipulation
There are plenty of ways to pull the wool over someone's eyes. One could use facts or photos but present them in a manipulative way, or use bots and trolls to shape public opinion on social media. Equip yourself with the skills to identify different types of manipulation.
Headlines and Photo Fakes
Bots and Trolls
Fake Expert Opinion & Paid Journalism
Manipulation with the Original Source
Fact-checking Tools
BY EDERA & IREX
Headlines &
Photo Fakes
The purpose of a headline is to grab your attention and make you click on the link, buy the newspaper or read the story. A headline can be complemented with pictures that amplify the emotional impact.
Learn to recognize manipulative headlines and the ways pictures can be distorted.
BY EDERA & IREX
Headlines:
Things to Look for
The Science Post, a satirical news outlet, published an article titled, "Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting."
In the article, the first paragraph is written in English; however, the second was comprised entirely of the standard lorem ipsum text – a placeholder, dummy text with no meaning, used by graphic designers and others to visualize the graphic layout of a document without having to fill it with content. The story has been shared more than 122,000 times.

The satirical article drew a lot of attention from researchers, as it managed to predict the quality of online reading. Scientists from multiple U.S. research centers have analyzed 2.8 million retweets and discovered that 59% of people like and retweet links without even clicking them.

The headline is one of the most crucial elements of any article, video clip, or other piece of content. Its main purpose is to grab the audience's attention to make them read or view the material. For this reason, journalists and editors often write headlines with elements of drama and sensationalism, emphasizing controversy or the aspects of the story they believe their target audience will like.

"Invasion", "outrage", "sensation of the day", "breaking news", — these are emotional words used to catch the readers' attention and make them click the link. This is called clickbaiting.
Clickbaiting is all about creating an interesting headline to entice readers to click a hyperlink. These articles often include an image that hints at controversy or perhaps contrasts with the headline. It aims to confuse the readers even more and make them click the link. But why do they need it?
A large part of online media's revenue comes from advertisements. The more traffic publishers have on their website, the more advertisers are likely to place ads there. As a result of more clicks, publishers' revenue increases.
BY EDERA & IREX
Manipulated Photos –
Watch Out!
Another type of manipulation is manipulated imagery. Let's look at a couple of stories.
According to AFP Factcheck, "tens of thousands of people shared a tweet with two photos, side by side from the 2018 anti-government "yellow vest" protests in Paris, captioned "Perspective matters."

Although the comparison indeed attempts to show how camera angles and image composition can be manipulated in the news media to dramatize an otherwise minor event, the two photos in question here are themselves manipulating readers, as they were actually made at different times in different places, and it is unknown whether they were taken by photojournalists.

Another viral photograph shows an elephant carrying a lion cub in its trunk with a lioness walking alongside. Created as an April Fool's joke, the image was originally posted on the Twitter account of Kruger National Park in South Africa. It is a Photoshop collage created by the account manager. The photo used in the seemingly authentic montage can easily be found by conducting a reverse image search.

And last but not least, hundreds of Russian and later Ukrainian media outlets spread information about the victims in the occupied territories of Ukraine by using a photo taken during the filming of "Fortress of War," a feature film set during the Second World War.
There are three types of photo manipulation:

A real photo of a place or person presented as an image of an entirely different place or person.

Often, these photos are falsely or misleadingly captioned to enhance the emotional impact on viewers. For instance, this photo is genuine, but the caption is manipulative since it creates an impression that the Ukrainian soldier was saved by his iPhone. Discussing the photo, commenters even suggested raising money for a new iPhone.

Doctored photos altered in a graphics editor (e.g. Photoshop) to add or remove some elements.


Another photo passed around the web showed a Ukrainian soldier embracing a girl near a train. The picture was captioned "An ATO fighter sees his girlfriend off to Moscow". Using a reverse image search, the same photo can be found, however with the sign on the train "Kharkiv–Uzhhorod".
When journalists found the young man in the picture, he was outraged by this manipulation. He said the photo was taken when he was on his way from Kharkiv to Ternopil. A volunteer helped identify the former ATO soldier.
Cropped photos show just part of an image out of context.

Photos altered this way are sometimes considered fake because the meaning of what they capture can be drastically changed.

A manipulated photo, in which Petro Poroshenko seems to be walking away from voters, was picked up and shared by Russian mass media and thousands of Facebook users. In reality, there were people on the other side of the road where Poroshenko was going; they were simply cropped out of the picture.

Keep in mind that manipulation can be everywhere. Always question sensational headlines and watch out for outrageous photos. Don't let them mislead you.

Stay alert!
Vocabulary
BY EDERA & IREX
Bots &
Trolls
Not everyone who writes on social media, shares statuses, likes or comments is a real person. Get to know who stands behind bots and trolls, and how they can distort your media environment.
Learn the difference between bots and trolls, and how to spot them.
BY EDERA & IREX
Life Hacks: How to
Detect Bots and Trolls
These days, social media is like a distorting mirror. It can help create or spread an illusion that someone is popular or an opinion leader. Likes and shares, sought after by many social media users, have become a tool to increase the visibility of manipulated news content and attack certain people, institutions and ideas. Bots and trolls are often involved.

"Bots", short for "robots," pretend to be real people, but rather are anonymous, artificial identities coordinated by someone who does not want to disclose their real name or intentions. Not all bots are bad. For example, there are bots that post poetry or inspirational quotes. But bots are usually used to artificially amplify messages or posts.

In addition to bots, there are trolls.

Trolls are real people operating online profiles, whereas bots tend to be automated or otherwise programmed. Trolls aim to cause or provoke certain emotions, usually anger, and to maintain a degree of ongoing visibility and discussion online.

Trolls can be:
  • contractors hired to spark discussions,
  • ideological warriors doing it for free and for their own motives,
  • normal people—we all sometimes get caught up in a hot discussion in the comment section and start defending our opinions, deliberately stirring the emotions of our opponents.

Bots are capable only of primitive chatting, while trolls can provide complex argumentation.
To spot bots among friends or page followers, you can use specialized software:
  1. IGExorcist (Instagram)
  2. Twitter Audit (Twitter)
  3. Botometer (determines if an account is run by a bot)
Be wary of people you are friends with or follow on social media that you do not know in real life. If you see someone fanning the flames in the comments section, just stay away, because you may be dealing with a bot or professional troll.
Vocabulary
BY EDERA & IREX
Fake Expert
Opinion
Photo fakes are not the only way to distort information. The media also sometimes use fake experts, both accidently and on purpose.
The statements, evaluations, and forecasts of experts with questionable reputations should always be investigated by searching for them online. A search of the expert's or institution's name online might reveal there is little internet record of them. So-called experts might not represent reputable institutions, but come from tiny organizations that are driven by an individual or group's political agenda. The statements of any single expert should be taken with a grain of salt, because it may turn out that they are not experts at all, or that their testimony was fabricated.

On September 30, Rossiiskaya Gazeta
published an interview with Einars Graudins, supposedly a Latvian politician. He was introduced as a Latvian human rights activist who, along with a group of experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), visited mass burial sites in Ukraine.

The man claimed that 400 bodies were discovered buried near Donetsk. Meanwhile, RIA Novosti and Vesti.ru presented the man as an OSCE expert.

The OSCE itself issued a statement that there was no such expert on its monitoring mission in Ukraine.

Moreover, Graudins's claims about the mass burial of 400 bodies near Donetsk were refuted, even by separatists themselves. Many media outlets solicited commentary from Volodymyr Ruban, who introduced himself as an expert and colonel-general. In fact, he turned out to be neither an expert nor a general.
If you can, check the expert's background on the Internet. Here are some things to take note of:
• their experience as an expert
• presence or absence of their articles in trustworthy publications
• their previous predictions and evaluations
• books, textbooks, articles, and the number of citations of works written by them
• the reputation of the organization they represent: do they appear to be recognized by others for their knowledge or expertise?
The Ukrainian information portal Texty listed hidden political PR experts and unreliable polling companies in an open database. Follow the link to find out more.
BY EDERA & IREX
Advertorial
The media must maintain a healthy balance between their commercial interests and observing journalistic standards. Sometimes these concepts are mixed, rules are violated and, as a result, the media consumer receives advertorial — an advertisement disguised as journalistic material.

Advertorial, or dzhynsa in Ukrainian, can distort important issues and events. We can receive inaccurate and manipulative information that the editors received money to publish, but it is presented as news and not as an advertisement. For example, a newspaper might be paid by a health supplement company to publish a story about the amazing health benefits of a new vitamin pill and present it as a normal news story.

Advertorial is a deception of, and disrespect for, readers and viewers because people are generally more confident in journalistic materials than an advert or a comment on social media. It is important to filter what we see and hear and be able to differentiate quality journalism from manipulative content.
How to recognize advertorial?
  • If the material is published without any reference to a place or time. Ask yourself a question: "Why is this material published at this particular time?"
  • Published sociological surveys from dubious sources, which usually differ significantly from other sociological surveys.
  • Pseudo-analytical materials of little-known authors signed as "political scientists" give a supposedly expert assessment of a particular event at an angle favorable to a particular political position. This can, but not always, be a sign of advertorial.
  • Journalistic standards provide for a balance of opinions. If the material is sharply positive or sharply negative it can be a sign of advertorial.
  • Some journalists can "work" for a politician or party. Therefore, many news sources include the candidate's comments although they are not an expert or mention them even if they have no direct relation to what happened.
  • Material without authorship. Quite often journalists don't want to put their name under paid materials, so such materials come out either without a signature or under a pseudonym. If the material is suspicious, try to find other materials from this author on the website or in the newspaper. You can copy and paste quoted passages from it and do an internet search to see if it ran elsewhere.
Vocabulary
BY EDERA & IREX
Manipulation with
the Original Source
Imagine a situation where one person says it's raining outside, and the other denies it. Which one would you believe? No need to guess, just look out the window and see for yourself!
This is what we call checking the primary source, which means going straight to the original source of a piece of information—for example, looking (without relying on reporters, etc.) at primary source documents or speaking with people who were directly involved in the event.
First-hand or primary sources may include:
  • Official press releases from government and judicial bodies, local authorities, and international organizations
  • Official letters, appeals, and requests for information
  • Direct, on-scene news reports (without editorializing/commentary)
  • An organization's official website
  • People directly involved in the event, including eyewitnesses
If you can't identify an original source, you should be wary of the information presented.

Keep in mind that every outlet has its own editorial policy, target audience, and approach to newsgathering, and its own interests can directly depend on those of its owner. These elements can affect the topics the outlet chooses to cover and the angle it takes in its coverage.

It's the journalists and editors who are responsible for ensuring the information they publish is authentic.

Sometimes, the principle of verifying information using at least two sources is neglected or compromised due to a variety of reasons, such as the pressure to publish and meet deadlines, insufficient training or understanding, or simply the unavailability of sources.

Often, journalists rely on other media for information that is relevant to a given story. Professional and honest media will link to or verbally credit these primary sources with phrases like "as reported by Reuters," or "according to Ukrinform." In online formats, they will usually provide a hyperlink for readers to be able to see the original source.
Note that sometimes it may be necessary to investigate further, as one cited source of information may have itself found that information from another source! Keep going until you are confident you have identified the original source of the information.

When something extraordinary happens, many media outlets are likely to report it, interview eyewitnesses and collect first-hand recordings (e.g. cell phone videos). So, if you are reading about an event that seems truly remarkable, yet after a few hours of searching you are still unable to find other photos or footage from the scene or other corroborating evidence, you may want to treat the information with a dose of healthy skepticism and not share it further.

Sometimes, news outlets publish information citing undisclosed sources. This can happen for a number of legitimate reasons, most often out of concern for personal safety or as a result someone not being authorized to speak publicly on an issue. Even when done for legitimate reasons, information from unnamed or anonymous sources cannot be verified. In such cases, consider whether the reason given makes sense in the context of the story.
What else should you look for during a publication background check?
  • Are there any contact details on its website? Are there links to an actively maintained social media presence?
  • How long has the publication been in operation?
  • Who is its editor-in-chief and who are the department editors?
  • Where does the publication's funding come from?
  • Does the article or clip show the author's name?
  • Are there any other stories by this author on the website?
Obviously, not all media outlets or websites can be trusted and are better left alone. Texty has done the research and rated controversial media outlets.
BY EDERA & IREX
Manipulation in
Social Media
What about social media? Well, despite all the good that comes from it, we should acknowledge that these platforms have also become places where users can spread false, manipulative, and misleading information.

For example, a story about a girl in need of money or a story about a bogus doctor who has named three cancer-causing drugs.

Seeing such striking posts that have garnered thousands of shares, we need to identify the essence of their messages before engaging.
Ask yourself these questions before sharing or liking the post:
  • Where did you find the post, and how did it get there? How might platform algorithms have played a role?
  • Which account shared this information? What else does this person post? Do you know them personally? Who are their friends, and what networks are they members of? Do they post a variety of content (e.g. personal, political, sports, etc.), or is their page solely dedicated to a single issue? What do their friends write and like?
  • Is the information posted facts or opinions?
  • Where else can the facts be checked?
  • If the post includes a photo, try to find out where, when, and under what circumstances it was taken. This can be done through a reverse image search.
  • Are there any eyewitnesses? If so, who are they? Can you find/cross-check the information using formal news media sources?
Always go to the original source! If a source is not given, a post should not be trusted. Media and the way information is consumed and shared are changing, but fact-checking principles should remain.
Vocabulary
BY EDERA & IREX
Fact-checking
Tools
International resources:
FactCheck.org;
SciCheck focuses exclusively on false and deceptive scientific statements;
Snopes;
PolitiFact;
Washington Post Fact Checker;
VOX CHECK;
STOP FAKE;
Truth or Fiction;
BBC Reality Check.
Ukrainian resources:
The State Statistics Service of Ukraine;
The national open data portal Ukraine is ranked seventeenth in the world in the Open Data Barometer Rating owing to this resource in particular;
Texty developed pseudo-sociologist and rating-seller database;
The Behind the News campaign refutes household and daily fakes and manipulations.
Other resources:
Searches for mentions and links to a person on the Internet, helps identify fake profiles.
A resource assessing the authenticity of images, can detect errors and meddling
Reverse image search is the easiest way to find an image using Google Chrome. Install Chrome on your mobile phone or computer. Bear in mind that this method does not list results by publication date.
How-to:
1. Right-click on the image (tap the image on the touchscreen to open it in full-screen mode).
2. Click Google Search by Image (long-tap the image on your smartphone and select "Google Search this image").
3. Scroll to the place where the pages containing the image are displayed.
4. Find the earliest date you can (the results will not be listed chronologically) and consider the reliability of the sources as you review them.
TinEye
This one works in any browser. It will also show you when the image was published for the first time.
How-to:
1. Save the image you want to check on your drive (tap the image on your mobile screen and hold it until the menu pops up, then choose Save Image).
2. Open tineye.com in your browser.
3. Select Upload Image and submit the image you want to check.
4. Select the Oldest option from the drop-down menu.