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Ukraine invasion: Checking the truth in a time of war

Across Ukraine, people have been cautiously holding phones up to the window, peaking past their curtains.

Grabbing a shot as the tanks roll past. Capturing the moment the night sky is lit bright by the explosion of an incoming missile.

Social media is flooded with videos that are documenting in real time what is happening as the Russian invasion draws on.

Many of the images circulating are real. And they are helping to inform the world what is happening.

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But some are false or misleading. Some show footage from years ago, from different countries. Others have been deliberately manipulated.

This video claims to show a Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 shooting down a Russian fighter jet.

It was posted on Twitter by eastern European media organisation Nexta TV the day after Russia announced its decision to invade Ukraine.

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But if you take one of the video’s key frames, and pass it through a reverse image search, which analyses millions of images on the internet, you find this. A YouTube video posted on the same day.

YouTube does not provide the time videos were uploaded. But the first comment under the video was posted at around 5.30am GMT.

That’s the earliest evidence of this video appearing online, so it is likely to be the original.

The YouTube video, however, is caveated with a key piece of information omitted elsewhere: it’s from a video game called Digital Combat Simulator.

The clip has been viewed over 385,000 times through Nexta TV’s tweet alone.

But that’s not the only place it’s appeared online claiming to show an incident from the conflict in Ukraine – it was even shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s not clear whether the account’s controller was aware of the nature of the video at the time of posting, but it illustrates how even official government accounts can play a role in spreading misinformation during periods of heightened uncertainty and conflict.

Sky News reported on this last year when an Israeli minister shared a video he said showed Hamas firing rockets during violence between Israeli and Palestinian groups. The video was actually several years old and had been filmed during the war in Syria.

And as the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, we will likely see false or misleading content will continue to circulate.

Adam Parker, Digital News Editor

Many news organisations, including Sky News, have dedicated staff and teams to check the authenticity of content posted online.

And at a time of war, when the truth can be used and manipulated for geo-political gain, these teams play a pivotal role in the journalistic process.

We use a variety of tools to verify videos and pictures that are shared on social media. Many are publicly available.

Some allow you to reverse search the internet for older versions of the same content.

That allows you to check if something was really filmed on the streets of Ukraine today for instance, or actually comes from another war in another continent at another time.

Our team at Sky News also uses mapping tools to match places you can see in a video to a satellite image or a street view camera.

We check who the uploader is, to see what they normally post about and where from? We can also corroborate a video by using other content filmed at or around the same time and matching it all.

And we do this as part of a strong online community that shares its work in this field – OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) is collaborative.

Individuals and teams work together to check, locate and verify what is posted online.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

Why data journalism matters to Sky News

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