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They’re all similar. A typical version reads: “26,000,000 cellphones in Ukraine. 100% internet coverage. Not one raw footage video. Think about it.”
Another adds: “You sneeze in the US and it’s all over the internet?!?!?!Wow. Never thought about that aspect?!?! … WTF Is Really Going On?!?! SMOKE AND MIRRORS!!!”
But the messages are clearly false. They are simply part of a range of vague conspiracy theories that the Ukraine war is a “hoax”, “scripted and staged” to further the aims of Covid “plots” and a shadowy and sinister global elite.
False videos debunked, real videos verified
The problem is that almost as soon as Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, videos started circulating online with false claims that they showed the conflict. Some are from elsewhere, some old videos from the years after Russia’s initial invasion in 2014, and some even from video games.
Video verification can be done in several ways. The metadata attached to the video can give the exact time and place the video was shot. The video can be geolocated – its location verified – by comparing it to older footage of the same place. And the person who filmed and uploaded the video can be contacted on social media.
The Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map
Possibly the largest collection of these videos is the interactive Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map. Here verified videos (and photos) of the war are pinned to their exact location on a map of Ukraine.
This shows when and where the video was shot – including GPS coordinates that can be looked up on Google Maps. The content is grouped in categories such as “civilian casualty”, “gunfire, fighting, battle” and “bombing, shelling or explosion”.
The map is a project of the Centre for Information Resilience, Bellingcat, the Conflict Intelligence Team, Advance Democracy and the “wider open source community”. It’s explained as “a crowdsourced effort ... to map, document and verify significant incidents during the conflict in Ukraine”.
The aim is not only to “provide reliable information to the world”. It’s also an archive for “future use by researchers, reporters as well as justice and accountability bodies”.
Here are a few examples of civilian video verified by the project and pinned on the map.
- “Footage showing bombing of what appears to be a person” on 16 March 2022 in Mariupol (coordinates 47.10305, 37.52427)
- “Deceased next to military medical vehicle” on 9 March 2022 in Staromlynivka, Donetsk oblast (coordinates 47.700511, 36.825919)
- “Shelling attack on podil's district” on 21 March in Kyiv (coordinates 50.501246, 30.421174)
- “Chechen troops fighting in Mariupol” on 19 March 2022 (coordinates 47.094478, 37.638030)
‘Extremely overwhelming amount of footage available’
Amateur footage of the Russia-Ukraine war is plentiful simply because Ukraine still has a more developed internet infrastructure than countries, such as Myanmar and Afghanistan, that have endured conflict for longer.
This point is made in a lengthy article by US media website CNET. It’s headlined: “How Ukrainian Civilians Are Using Phones to Share the Invasion With the World.”
The article interviews Benjamin Strick, the director of investigations at the Centre for Information Resilience. The UK-based nonprofit is one of the organisations behind the Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map.
“Much of the footage we are seeing actually comes from civilians filming on the ground,” Strick says. “We are seeing primarily footage filmed from balconies, outside of windows, dashcams, or just passersby on the street that are filming these events.”
He says civilian video provides several different views of the same event.
“There is an extremely overwhelming amount of footage available on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even right down to specific incidents where we are getting two, three, even four alternative angles of a specific attack. Whereas in Myanmar or Afghanistan, we sometimes struggle to get one.”
He adds: “The footage from Ukraine is often very clear, quite high definition and often much easier to verify than some areas."
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