Ukraine is under constant assault from disinformation aimed at undermining its democratic institutions and Euro-Atlantic integration. Yet civil society now has new tools to fight back. Since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, NDI has ramped up programming to counter disinformation in Ukraine. With support from the Department of State, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Government of Canada, NDI has launched new efforts with local partners to develop, test and deploy effective countermeasures. These partnerships are yielding results.
Recently, NDI partner Texty received the Google News Initiative-sponsored International Sigma Data Journalism Award for “Best News Application of 2019” for its Disinformation Dashboard, beating out other finalists including the Washington Post.
Last year, NDI began a new initiative with Texty, an independent data journalism organization that tracks and monitors disinformation. With NDI support, Texty expanded its technical capacity and expanded its reach through new tools, including the Disinformation Dashboard, an online data visualization that displays the most “popular” disinformation narratives each week, sorted by topic. Powered by a new algorithm, Texty was able to expand its monitoring beyond a limited set of click-bait news sites to a wide spectrum of mainstream and fringe Ukrainian and Russian news sites. It honed its ability to do targeted monitoring of key news outlets for signs of disinformation, including when fringe disinformation narratives start to appear in more mainstream websites. Using advanced machine-learning techniques, Texty is now able to scrape and analyze more than 50,000 articles per week. Once a news article is flagged, Texty’s algorithm sorts manipulative content and disinformation into topical categories, then Texty’s team of experts reviews results to further analyze and sort before publishing the information on the Disinformation Dashboard. As Texty tracks various narratives by topic week-to-week, it allows its audience to gain a perspective on the ebbs and flows of persistent narratives over time. This allows concerned democtratic actors to better understand and track fundamental threats, as well as develop more effective countermeasures.
In addition to developing new technical tools and visualizations, NDI has worked with Texty to help broaden the reach of its analysis. For example, Texty began releasing weekly updates in Ukrainian and English illustrated by the Disinformation Dashboard. As a result of the partnership with NDI, users for Texty’s disinformation-related products have increased by more than 500 percent. Texty was able to further raise its profile by joining the Disinformation Coordination Hub, an NDI initiative launched in 2019 that aims to create a platform for local CSOs, media organizations, international organizations, and other stakeholders to discuss their work and foster coordination and collaboration.
The health of democracies around the world are threatened by forces attempting to corrupt the social and political information space. Disinformation is one such force that is being weaponized to target Ukraine’s democracy. NDI will continue to work with partners like Texty to develop new tools and methods to ensure that Ukrainians have access to accurate information and are more resilient to attacks on their information space.
Author: Jerrel Gilliam is a Program Officer for the Eurasia team at the National Democratic Institute.