The Truth Behind Disinformation: Russia’s Use of False Information to Create a Narrative for the War with Ukraine

In our current society, we are constantly inundated with information. The average American reportedly consumes 34 gigabytes of information every day.[1] That is the equivalent of playing over 15,000 hours of Fortnight or scrolling for 94 hours on TikTok.[2] Information can be falsified in order to change a person’s perception of reality and is used as a tool in the political realm to intensify social conflict.[3] Using information in this way is known as disinformation.[4] And one challenge with disinformation is it spreads quickly and vastly.[5] One study found that tweets with false information were 70% more likely to be retweeted than tweets with accurate information.[6] Another study found that Facebook posts with false information attracted six times more activity than factual posts.[7]

Disinformation is a powerful tool for impacting the beliefs of individuals and societies.[8] One example of the power disinformation has on individuals is the 2016 “Pizzagate” case. In this case, a fake news story was knowingly spread claiming a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC was a front for a trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton during her campaign.[9] A man who believed this story brought a semi-automatic weapon into the restaurant and fired shots.[10] Fortunately, no one was killed in this shooting.[11] This example shows the power disinformation has on an individual scale. Disinformation is also used on a global scale.

 False information can be used to alter the politics of a nation and to shape relationships and policies between countries. One well known case of using disinformation to impact American politics was during the 2016 election.[12] During this election, a Russian company called Russia’s Internet Research Agency created social media accounts and bought advertisements on Facebook to spread false information about Hillary Clinton.[13] The purpose of these social media accounts was to increase support for Donald Trump and to discredit Hillary Clinton.[14] This agency also increased the tensions between Americans by staging protests and making ads that targeted social justice issues such as race.[15]

A present-day battle with disinformation includes the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. Russia is spreading false information about the Ukraine in order to build support for the goals of the Russian government and to create obstacles for the efforts in ending the war.[16] One method the Russian government is using to spread disinformation is by hiring internet trolls to post opposing and manipulative messages in discussion forums and the comments sections of news articles and other websites.[17] Further, the UK government discovered that TikTok influencers were being paid to promote pro-Russian narratives.[18] Russia’s disinformation attack ran messages stating Ukraine was created by Russia, that Ukraine has no historical claim to independence, and that Ukraine’s government was infiltrated by neo-Nazis.[19] The Russian government has also limited its citizens’ access to social media. For instance, Russia claimed Meta is an extremist organization and banned the use of Facebook and Instagram in Russia.[20] To counteract this disinformation, other countries and international organizations have been supporting fact checking efforts and disseminating accurate information.[21] The US and UK government also shared intelligence with allies about Russia’s plan to invade the Ukraine in order to weaken the Russian government’s disinformation attack.[22] But ultimately, Ukraine is having to fight wars on multiple fronts including Russia’s “cyberwar.”

Disinformation is the purposeful spreading of false information to alter people’s perception of an event. The truth behind disinformation is that it is a powerful tool that can impact individuals’ beliefs and international relationships between countries. A current “cyberwar” exists between the Russian and Ukraine conflict. Ultimately, Russia is using disinformation to create a narrative that the invasion of Ukraine is beneficial for the Russian citizens.



[1]  Wachira M., Consuming Information Research, Wonder (Mar. 11, 2022), https://askwonder.com/research/consuming-information-research-gngr6owc2?h=c2ea0077b81b60170524893115bbc6b9942f9ca675882d97751358022ed812cf.

[2] Wonder News Room, How Much Information do we Learn Everyday?, (Apr. 28, 2022), https://www.blog.askwonder.com/blog/information-data-media-consumed-in-day-average.

[3] The Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara (CITS), The Danger of Fake News in Inflaming or Suppressing Social Conflict, https://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/danger-social.

[4] Andre W.M. Gerrits, Disinformation in International Relations: How Important is it?, Brill (Dec. 12, 2008), https://brill.com/view/journals/shrs/29/1-4/article-p3_3.xml?language=en.

[5] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Disinformation and Russia’s War of Aggression Against Ukraine: Threats and Governance Responses, (Nov. 3, 2022), https://www.oecd.org/ukraine-hub/policy-responses/disinformation-and-russia-s-war-of-aggression-against-ukraine-37186bde/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Gerrits, supra note 4.

[9] CITS, supra note 3.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] OECD, supra note 5.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.