An excerpt from a Ukrainian fighter jet detonating a alleged Russian aircraft started trending on social media yesterday. Many thought it was proof of the exploits of a mysterious, unverified ace pilot called the “Ghost of Kyiv”. It was actually fake footage from 2013 pc game, Digital Battle Simulator: World.
As The Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its second day, rumors started circulating Ukrainian fighter pilot tasked with shooting down several Russian targets. “The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed that five Russian planes and one helicopter were shot down on Thursday morning,” he added. CNN reported on February 24 (via snopes). Russia, however, denied the losses.
With apparent clips of a jet revolving around the Ukraine capital of kiev already spreading on social networkssome went looking for evidence of the fall of the Russian antenna strengths, and because the internet will always give you what you’re looking for, whether it’s real or not, it didn’t take long for apparent footage of the “Ghost of Kyiv” in action to start doing the rounds. On February 25, the following video went viral:
As snopes, Reutersand others later confirmed, however, the footage was actually from a YouTube video which was explicit that it was just a fictional tribute. “This sequence is from DCS, but is nonetheless made out of respect for ‘The Ghost of Kyiv,” wrote user Comrade_Corb in the description of the video. “If he is real, God be with him; if it’s wrong, I pray for more like ‘him.'”
Still, it would have been easy to mistake for reality at a glance, as it’s designed to look like it was filmed with the vertical aspect ratio of a smartphone, and people can be heard commenting breathlessly in the background.
Digital combat simulator was a widely released free-to-play flight simulation that is now over ten years old. Developed by Eagle Dynamics, a company founded in Russia but now headquartered in Switzerland, DCS: Worldby default the map is defined in the Caucasus region near Russia, Georgia and Crimea.
A Eagle Dynamics spokesperson, Matthias Techmansky, confirmed at Reuters than fiction the YouTube video spreading like wildfire on social media was indeed from DEC. “We are not responsible for its distribution and we do not endorse this content,” he said.
Some media have started to refer to virality clip as a “captioned video” and Twitter flagged some of the most liked and retweeted versions as “media presented out of context”. While this is certainly true from a technical perspective, it hardly captures the current well established phenomenon misinformation spreading online whenever major news arrives, often using hyper-realistic footage video games.
It’s now media literacy 101 to be skeptical of any unsourced information spread by seemingly random accounts online. And while some people perhaps still learning to navigate the tumult of posts whenever a new crisis or tragedy takes over the news cycle, these are almost always the biggest accounts, the ones that should (and do) often) know better, which actually help drive the flow of bullshit. It’s not an accident. It is by design.