April 4, 2022

Myth Detector, a fact-checking project of the Georgia-based Media Development Foundation — or MDF — recently launched a Russian-language website to combat mis- and disinformation related to the Russia-Ukraine war.

The site already features dozens of fact checks, addressing such questions as whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy actually met with the Turkish delegation in Lviv and whose caricature — Vladimir Putin’s or Zelenskyy’s — appears on a billboard in Odesa.

Myth Detector has published in four languages so far, including Georgian, Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian — though it’s now mainly publishing in English and Russian to reach the widest audience.

“We are reaching the Russian population now because, according to our latest data, 20% of our readers are from Russia now,” said Tamar Kintsurashvili, executive director of MDF, and editor-in-chief of Myth Detector. However, those numbers are likely to change day-to-day, Kintusrashvili stipulated.

“We have added some journalists with experience in Russian-language reporting.”

Myth Detector focuses on three areas of false information: foreign influence operations, internal political propaganda, and false information spread for economic purposes (or clickbait sites to get ad revenue.)

One Myth Detector fact check evaluates a video of Zelenskyy detailing his alleged drug use, when in fact, the footage is pulled from clips of the Ukrainian president talking about sports and his love of coffee.

In the original clip, when asked about his high energy level, Zelenskyy says, “I get up at 7 a.m., I walk the dog, I do sports. What is sport? You have to get to the point to force yourself. And that energy remains for the rest of the day.”

In the altered clip, the word “sports“ is replaced with “drugs.”

“We are witnessing some accounts spreading disinformation in a coordinated way through Facebook pages linked to Russia diaspora abroad,” Kinturashvili said. “So they are not only disseminators of false information, but they are engaged in protest against Ukrainian refugees.”

Another MDF fact check addresses a widely circulated graphic, which claims Poland is planning to invade and annex Ukraine to share with Russia, Hungary and Romania. The story includes a map of Ukraine with the borders redrawn to show Ukraine divided up among the countries. While the map did originally come from a 2014 proposal to redistribute Ukraine, the source of the map was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a firebrand politician and Russian nationalist who is unaffiliated with the Polish government.

MDF is growing, with almost 10,000 followers on Facebook, and the Russian-language fact checks will likely continue to boost its numbers.

“We have readers from the U.S. as well because of the English-language site,” Kinturashvili said. “So after our Russian addition, we will analyze the data again, because we are reaching new audiences.”

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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