|As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, social media users around the world circulate posts detailing ways to help Ukrainian people. Some call for protests, others for thoughts and prayers, but there are many calls for cash—which can be a risky way to show your support.
On Valentine’s Day, we asked you not to send money to people you’ve never met in person over the internet. I realize the current conflict in Eastern Europe is far more complicated than a lonely hearts situation, but I echo my previous warnings. Don’t send money to individuals you don’t know online.
Remember that anyone can be on the other side of the screen. Does the person on Instagram claiming to be in a war zone exist? Or are they a 21-year-old in Kentucky recycling old military footage in an effort to profit off human tragedy? There’s a lot of money and clout to be gained from spreading disinformation online. Don’t be duped.
How to Spot Disinformation Tactics and Not Further Their Scams
Ignore follower counts and look for high-quality followers instead.
Meme accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok amass millions of followers quickly, usually a mix of bots and real people. High follower counts do not equal legitimacy. A good sign of a legitimate account is one that’s followed by government officials or journalists from major news organizations.
Verify the media you consume.
Accounts spreading disinformation around the current Russia-Ukraine conflict may use photos from previous wars or military exercises, which you can find and debunk with a simple reverse image search.
Video is a different animal. It’s tougher to expose fake videos quickly, which is why a lot of scammers and sham artists on social media use the medium. From video game renders, to recent videos from other invasions, no footage is off limits for a disinformation campaign.
Heed these warnings, and view all streaming videos purporting to be from war zones and broadcast by social media accounts with suspicion. Ask yourself “What does this user have to gain by sharing this video?” Many of these live-streaming accounts run fundraisers or advertise pornographic OnlyFans accounts in between war footage, which is a giant red flag.
Think before you share.
Even if you only have a few followers or subscribers, you have a voice. To your circle of friends, you lend legitimacy to every link you share and every photo or video you retweet. Keep everyone safer by only sharing information from verified government accounts or verified news media. Yes, bloggers have the freedom to say what they feel, but they can color information with their opinions. When sharing posts that are pertinent to another person’s life or death, stick to the facts.
Ignore the fundraiser button.
Anyone can create a legitimate-looking fundraiser in a few seconds using most social platforms. If you want to donate money to the Ukrainian military, go to the country’s Twitter account and use the links provided there.
Stay out of the DMs.
If someone you don’t know sends you a private message asking for you to follow an account, click a link for more information, or donate to their plight, do not respond. Just report, block, and move on.
Follow the money.
If, for instance, a Twitch streamer asks for donations to help Ukraine, don’t feel bad about asking in the chat how they plan to get the money to the people in need. Not everyone is a scammer, and if the fundraiser is legit, the streamer will be able to explain their method of financial dispersal through an official channel such as the Ukrainian government’s financial links.
Scammers love to capitalize on victims’ feelings, and emotions online are running high right now. Constant vigilance and taking the time to vet charities and accounts online may save you lost money and lost faith in humanity in the long run.
PCMag Security Analyst
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