A number of videos featuring bikini-clad women made the rounds on Twitter this weekend, but not for the reasons some might expect. The clips purported to show a beach on the Black Sea near the Ukrainian city of Odesa after it reportedly reopened for the first time since Russia’s invasion.
The post was met with a backlash as those critical of U.S. and other Western aid being provided to Ukraine voiced their frustration that it didn’t resemble a warzone. However, other users on Twitter soon weighed in that the video was actually filmed at the Strandbad Plötzensee, a lake in the city of Berlin, Germany!
Beaches Are Open
Another video also circulated showing a party-like gathering at the Ibiza Beach Club in Odesa. It does resemble the images and videos on the club’s official website, and it is—or at least was—a very popular hotspot, yet, it remains unclear when the video may have actually been filmed. The club’s Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2018 and no videos have been posted to its YouTube page since July of 2021—more than six months before Russia launched its unprovoked invasion.
It would appear that the Ibiza Beach Club in Odesa may still be closed.
However, there is a grain of truth to the story. As Reuters reported on Saturday, several beaches in the city have been officially opened for swimming, but bathing in the sea is banned during air raid alerts. It is also important to note the city has been repeatedly attacked with missiles and drones, while the waters have been littered with hundreds of sea mines. In other words, people may be swimming in Ukraine, but it is hardly the party atmosphere some on social media have suggested.
“This is a classic piece of disinformation. There are a few interesting things about this. First, this is what I always think of as a ‘cheap fake’ instead of a ‘DeepFake,'” said Dr. Cliff Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
“The only thing they did was to add a tag to an already existing video,” explained Lampe. “No AI needed, just the simplest of video techniques. We’ve seen this several times, and these cheap fakes are very prevalent as a type of disinformation.”
Lampe added that whoever first posted the video was also clever in that it uses attractive people to immediately grab attention, but then also layers on sexual moral judgment onto anti-Biden or anti-war intents.
“Disinformation needs to gather attention, which this effectively did, and it is more effective when it hits on multiple levels of outrage,” said Lampe. “I wouldn’t say this changed any minds. That’s usually not the goal behind disinformation—which is more about deepening already held beliefs and calling into question the very nature of truth itself. Clearly, this was a successful effort.”
Can We Trust The Fact-Checkers
What was also notable with these videos is that the online sleuths quickly identified that one of the videos was filmed in Germany, while some were wrong that the other wasn’t actually Odessa. That could make others question a fact-checker if they turn out to be wrong.
It also makes us question whether we can even trust fact-checkers in general!
“It depends on the post and the fact-checkers. I’d believe Bellingcat without question because they disclose their methodology and they have a track record,” suggested Dr. Matthew Schmidt, associate professor in the National Security Department at the University of New Haven.
“If someone replied to this with convincing photographic evidence, which was then agreed to by the consensus of responses, I’d be inclined to believe it,” Schmidt continued. “The point is that there’s a great wealth of talent in the open source community, so they’ve repeatedly shown they’re right about things.”
However, it could still be good to be skeptical by default.
“Like a scientist saying ‘I believe X with 75% confidence, but Y with 90%.’ People need to think in probabilities, then they can use open source intel intelligently,” Schmidt noted. “It’s not just right or wrong, it’s shades of right enoughness.”
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
On the surface having open source fact-checkers could seem to be a case of “who guards the guardians”—Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. However, Schmidt dismissed that notion.
“This isn’t so much who guards the guardians—because these guys on the Internet aren’t the guardians—but who is guarding the gate to true intelligence,” Schmidt pondered. “Is it the guardians at the CIA or the crowd? Because the amount of open source Intel that drives analysis at places like the CIA would surprise people. They’re feeding the guardians. And the really TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) stuff is the dessert, not the main meal.”