DOHA, Qatar, March 26 — The Ukraine conflict has unleashed a “Third World War” over misinformation, an official from the beleaguered country said today, while experts warned of the difficulty in convincing Russians what their army is doing.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has also forced a profound change in the way big tech companies are handling information, experts told the Doha Forum at which Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova put Ukraine’s case.

Russia has put huge resources into getting across its message in the media and on social media platforms that its invasion of Ukraine is a “special operation”, while President Vladimir Putin has said it intends to “denazify Ukraine”.

“I believe we are entering a Third World War, not a conventional conflict but an information war,” said Dzhaparova, a former journalist.

“It is like radiation — you don’t feel it, you don’t touch it, but it affects you.”

Dzhaparova said Russia’s “narrativisation” of the war had been one of the key elements that had made Ukrainians more determined to resist.

She said it was a bigger problem to convince Russians and other countries because of the effectiveness of the Russian campaign which has increased since its seizure of Crimea eight years ago.

As well as political leaders, the Kremlin has used social media, sports people and popular musicians to get its message across, she said.

“Russia has been very inventive in this field,” according to the minister who said other countries were struggling to deal with it as “people don’t know who to trust.”

“The best weapon is the truth,” she said. “But there are millions of Russians who just do not want to believe. When you show them the facts it just does not work.”

Big tech companies are now giving greater priority to foreign policy experts to counter misinformation in other countries, taking down more content and are reducing the influence of algorithms in managing content, according to Elizabeth Joanna Linder, a former Facebook executive now running her own consultancy.

“But more needs to be done,” she added.

Todd Helmus, a behavioural scientist at the RAND Corporation, told the forum Russia’s justification for the invasion was not widely accepted internationally at the start but is now gaining traction with the “far right” in the United States and Europe.

“The American far right is echoing the Russian message and the Kremlin is echoing the American far right,” Helmus said, warning governments needed to act.

“We need to find ways to push information into the Russian ecosphere,” he told the forum.

Helmus praised the role of international media and Ukrainian influencers who have produced powerful images from the conflict, now into its second month.

“The images coming out of Ukraine are amazing, genuine and authentic” and need to be encouraged, he said. — AFP