CTO Blog 2022-03-26 - Facts and Fiction #3

Credit: Bywire News, Canva
Credit: Bywire News, Canva
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LONDON (Bywire News) - Spreading of news #General

Yesterday my attention was caught by extremely graphic news on the website of the BBC: The Russian Colonel of the 37th Motorized Infantry Brigade was apparently killed by his own troops after suffering horrendous casualties, by a staged accident with one of their tanks. It drew my attention for several reasons: firstly, it was extremely violent and graphic, secondly, It confirmed all my prejudices that Russia has a lot of casualties. And third, it was very specific in the person killed. Lastly, the source was extremely vague (an official). All four of these factors are in my opinion highly suspicious and would form 4 major red flags for fake news. I saw the story originally on the website of the BBC, but discovered quickly that all major UK newspapers ranging from the Daily Mail to the Guardian ran the story. However, it was suspiciously absent from and Associated Press, which news organizations use if they don’t have their own journalist covering a certain topic.

Is it true? 

This is the big question and it seems at a first glance very difficult to confirm. There is only one anonymous source and Russia does not provide much evidence of any losses. Looking for more information on the unit in question (37th Motor Rifle Brigade) to see if the Colonel in question was leading the troops directed back to the same news articles with which I started. I wanted to see whether there was any information about a court-martial in the unit in question. Desertion would normally be met with severe punishment, so I would expect there to be some judicial action against a unit killing its commander. Not knowing the best way to approach this I started by tracing who published the article and when. 


Looking at who ran the story and when something interesting happened. First, there was a clear order in which the story was published the majority of the papers were published roughly at the same time on 25-03-2022 around 18:30, followed by other papers. In the led was the Daily Mail and iNews, who published around 15:30. Over time the stories branched out as there appeared two major ways in which the Colonel’s name was written.

There are different versions of the stories. In some, he was wounded, while in others he was killed. Both are quite curious, the transcription from Russian is normally relatively straightforward and there is a big difference if someone was injured or died. Some stories referenced a Ukrainian journalist (Roman Tsymbaliuk), who published the news two days earlier. Investigating this leads to further references to a tweet of the 11th of March, by one of the Chechen fighters, showing the Colonel in question wounded. Unless the Twitter publication date was gamed, and considering the inconsistencies in the story, I would consider it more likely that the incident was taken out of context.


4 red flags: Not trustworthy.

The fact that photos of the Colonel being carried away from the front wounded appeared already on the 11th of March, nearly two weeks before the news was published broadly makes me deem the news untrustworthy. Furthermore, there were strong indications of this news playing on my emotions and my prejudices. Therefore I deem this news untrustworthy.

(Writing by Jetze Sikemma, Tom Cropper, editing by Klaudia Fior)



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