CJR’s Update on Ukraine President Zelensky

From CJR’s The Media Today by Mathew Ingram:

Notable stories

  • Reuters had an exclusive interview with Marina Ovsyannikova, a former editor at a Russian state broadcaster, who recently hijacked a news show by appearing behind the anchor with a sign protesting the war in Ukraine. Ovsyannikova “said the harrowing images from Ukraine had jolted her own childhood memories of growing up in Chechnya, the southern region torn apart by war after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” Reuters reported. The former editor said: “I absolutely do not feel like a hero. I really want to feel like this sacrifice was not in vain, and that people will open their eyes.” Ovsyannikova said she was taken to a police station and fined the equivalent of $280 for her protest.
  • Facebook reported that it removed a “deepfake” video of someone pretending to be Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. In the video clip, the fake president asked Ukrainians to put down their arms and surrender to Russian forces. “The deepfake appears to have been first broadcast on a Ukrainian news website for TV24 after an alleged hack,” according to The Verge, a hack first reported by Sky News on Wednesday. The video shows an edited Zelenskyy speaking behind a podium declaring that Ukraine has “decided to return Donbas” to Russia and that his nation’s war efforts had failed.
  • As the war in Ukraine rages on, Russia is “ramping up one of its most powerful weapons: disinformation,” the Guardianreports. “Social media companies are scrambling to respond. False claims about the invasion have been spread by users in Russia as well as official state media accounts. Russia frequently frames itself as a  victim and has pushed disinformation including that the US was providing biological weapons to Ukraine.” Experts say the response from platforms like Meta, YouTube, and Twitter “has been haphazard and lacks the range and scope to tackle sophisticated disinformation campaigns. And even when policies exist, observers fear they are poorly and inconsistently enforced.”
  • In a upcoming podcast with Jon Favreau, former New York Timesdigital culture writer Taylor Lorenz, who recently joined the Washington Post, talked about how she feels the Times didn’t support her when she was the target of online harassment. “I don’t want to single them out, because I think this is probably true of every legacy media organization,” Lorenz said. “But they’re like ‘Oh, we’re sorry to hear Tucker Carlson is targeting you, but we’re not really going to do anything to help protect your online reputation,’ and then also ‘Why are you being so controversial that Tucker Carlson is mad at you?’”
  • Many people in the West seem optimistic about Ukraine’s ability to dominate the “information war” unleashed by Russia’s invasion, Mother Jones writes. “Writers in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Politico, and the Financial Times, and at among as many as a dozen other publications have written stories eagerly declaring that Ukraine the winner.” However, not everyone agrees with this rosy assessment. “A lot of the people who are saying ‘game over’ are looking just in their own circles,” said Elise Thomas, an Australia-based disinformation researcher and open-source intelligence analyst for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, a London think tank.
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin’s moves against US tech giants prior to the invasion of Ukraine laid the foundation for his ongoing attack on free expression, the Washington Postreports. “Russian agents came to the home of Google’s top executive in Moscow to deliver a frightening ultimatum last September: take down an app that had drawn the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin within 24 hours or be taken to prison,” the Post says. Google and Apple both removed the app, which was designed to aid Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. “Titans of American technology had been brought to their knees by some of the most primitive intimidation tactics in the Kremlin playbook.”
  • Justin Smith, the former chief executive of Bloomberg Media, talked on Tuesday about the new media startup he recently co-founded with former BuzzFeed editor and New York Times media columnist Ben Smith. According to a report in the Times, the new venture “will be named for a word that is the same in dozens of languages [and] will recruit English-speaking journalists from countries like India and Singapore.” Justin Smith also said during the interview, which was sponsored by the Harvard Business School Club of New York, that “the era of the foreign correspondent is over.” The Smiths are seeking tens of millions of dollars in funding for their new venture, and this week announced that they have hired Gina Chua, a former senior editor at Reuters, as executive editor.
  • Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab, writes in a piece for Tech Policy Press that “for those studying how the Russian invasion of Ukraine is reshaping technology policy, Meta’s decision last week to temporarily permit calls for violence against ‘invading Russians’ will stand among the most consequential episodes of the war.” That decision by the company shows how public distrust of Western social media platforms can rebound, Brooking argues, and also “provides a window into the impossible decisions that confront Meta and other technology companies as they try to write wartime content moderation policy in real-time.”

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