Soon after Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine late last week, Clara Jiménez Cruz noticed something. As with any major geopolitical conflict, swirls of disinformation were already beginning to circulate.
“We saw that there was a lot of work to be done, and this disinformation was not only being debunked by fact-checkers in Spain, but also in other countries,” said Jiménez Cruz, co-founder and CEO of Maldita.es, a Spanish nonprofit news organization aimed at combating disinformation through fact-checking and data journalism.
The Maldita team sent a message to a listserv belonging to Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which brings together about 120 fact-checking organizations and advocates of factual information in the fight against misinformation. With a spreadsheet, they invited other fact-checkers to enter disinformation they’ve debunked.
“We know that when fact-checkers collaborate among themselves, the work is much more effective and we can also gather better information about which kind of disinformation is circulating,” Jiménez Cruz said.
The result is ukrainefacts.org, a database developed by Maldita that publishes fact checks on the mis/disinformation circulating in Ukraine. Also called #UkraineFacts, the collaborative effort of verified signatories of IFCN’s Code of Principles is now available to the public for browsing. There’s also a map of the world that users can click on to read about debunked disinformation in different countries.
Baybars Örsek, director of the IFCN, said that dozens of fact-checking organizations contributed to the spreadsheet with their content in the hours after the project was introduced.
“It’s a great reminder that the community is so active, and they were already monitoring a lot of misinformation and disinformation in the beginning of the military operation,” Örsek said. “It’s great to see that happening.”
He pointed out that fact-checking organizations are much better equipped now to handle disinformation around the Ukraine crisis, having gained a great deal of experience in this same kind of work around the coronavirus pandemic.
“The public opinion on this is also very clear … who is the right party in this. But with COVID, it was very challenging — especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Nobody knew what was happening,” Örsek said. “But this time, it was clearly an act of unjust aggression by Russia, so that’s not a big question.”
The misinformation around Ukraine includes out-of-context images and photos from previous protests or conflicts that are circulating online as if they are happening in the Eastern European country.
There are now more than 400 entries in #UkraineFacts from over 45 countries, Jiménez Cruz said. She said it doesn’t make sense for fact-checkers to focus on the same bits of disinformation. “We share the same standards and, if another partner has done the job, the job is going to be well done,” she said. “It takes work from our workflow because we’re not duplicating the effort.”
One thing that struck the Spanish journalist is how one piece of disinformation starts in one country and jumps to another. This project can help show how it evolves.