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Viral Conspiracy Theories Falsely Claim Ukraine War is a Hoax

Ukraine war
Several viral conspiracy theories on Twitter and social media are claiming that the war in Ukraine has been faked. Credit: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0

Just over a year into the war in Ukraine, several viral conspiracy theories are spreading a false narrative online that the conflict is a hoax.

Most of the conspiracy theories are being spread on social media platforms like Twitter. The conspiracy theorists on these platforms will typically share a photo or video claiming that imagery or footage has been faked, staged, or doctored.

The most extreme conspiracy theories propagating the idea that the entire conflict has been faked are the most puzzling, given that extensive footage from the war has been shared by both journalists in the mainstream media and on social media by users caught in the middle of the conflict.

Ukraine war is “fake” conspiracy theorists claim

According to the BBC, the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine led to a spike in conspiracy theories about the conflict, with some even alleging that the entire war was faked.

For example, one viral post that appeared on Twitter claimed “I am sick and tired of the lack of footage of the Ukraine war. I worked in cable news. I am initiated. If it bleeds, it leads. Where is the war footage? Where are the Pulitzer Prize winning photos? This smacks of a scam and the American people are fed up.”

“Produce the documentary evidence or STFU already,” the post continued. “We’re not sending our sons and daughters to die over a corrupt undemocratic country’s politics without documentary evidence. We don’t give a crap about your Russian bogeyman. This is not a matter of US national security. So, put up or shut up.”

The viral post has over 5.3 million views and more than 10,000 retweets. The author of the post has appeared on widely followed podcasts like the Rubin Report and Timcast.

Other viral posts claim that photos and footage of the war are fake. One in particular, of a high-rise apartment building in Kyiv that sustained visible damage from a Russian missile strike just two days after the invasion began, has been the subject of several conspiracy posts on social media.

Some social media users have claimed that the photograph of the damaged building, which has subsequently been repaired and partially reconstructed, was doctored. Their argument was that it would be impossible to reconstruct the building during the ongoing conflict.

However, with the exception of regular Russian missile strikes, Kyiv has not been at the forefront of the fighting since March last year. The most intense fighting is now mostly localized to the east of the country.

Documentary footage and photography of the conflict

Despite claims by conspiracy theorists that the war in Ukraine has not been well documented, a myriad of footage and photography exists, with more being added each day.

The mainstream media channels have repeatedly shown footage and imagery of the unfolding war, with the more gruesome elements generally censored or cut out.

On social media platforms like Meta, footage and photography from the frontlines is in mass circulation. This includes content uploaded by Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, as well as amateur journalists, and Ukrainian civilians.

Headcam footage, filmed by soldiers on both sides with GoPros mounted on their helmets, has become particularly prevalent online. Of course, mobile phone footage is the most common.

A discerning eye is needed to sort legitimate footage and imagery from fakes online. Indeed, in some cases, videogame footage has even been mistaken for legitimate combat footage on social media.

Nevertheless, a massive output of footage and imagery from the war is being produced and disseminated in a way that was not possible in previous conflicts before the widespread adoption of mobile phone cameras and social media. Sorting through this output for relevant and legitimate content is often the work of open source intelligence (OSINT) analysts.

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