One unusual case of falsehood occurred in Lithuania in the middle of June. We decided to write about this content, because similar fake-scandals, concerning the Allied forces, can also come across in Estonia.
On 14th of June, news spread in social media, that a nuclear bomb fell on an apartment building in Lithuania. The story told that “...in Klaipeda region, an incident occurred with one of the US Air Force bombers deployed on the territory of the Baltic States.” Details were unknown, but the cause of this accident was probably “… a pilot error, an electric power supply shortage, or a malfunction of the launch drum. As a result, a gas supply system was damaged, and there was a fire.” Information about the victims was not shared, but there was list of incidents with the same type of aircraft since 1958.
How was the lie spread?
The fake news was distributed by the news media portal wn.com, by a user called johnkeller, which was illustrated with a photo. This is a forged image, which is based on the screen shot of the United States Department of Defense website, that speaks of the B-52 aircraft. The fake-news was also posted on the panjury.com page by user travis turner and on reddit.com by johnkeller68, on the aviation industry section. It also spread on some publications in Lithuanian and Russian language.
According to Lithuanian Delfi, the material was sent to various media channels, and government agencies by someone called Romualdas Palionis, who uploaded a video on vimeo.com of a burning two-story building, where the original false information was attached. However, the fake-news does not spread very widely. In Lithuania, it gets quickly marked as fake-news, and reddit users confute it.
Who is behind the fake-news?
It is unclear to this day. “Johnkeller” and “Romualdas Palionis” seem to be fake accounts, which were created to spread this news – they do not have any history on this sites. But the names are not chosen by accident. John Keller a real person, who is editor-in-chief of “Military & Aerospace Electronics” outlet. Throughout the years he has posted a number of aviation related articles. John Keller is also the name of the US Defense Secretary in the movie “Transformers“.
It does not seem to be an accidental joke. One can see an effort in the creation of the accounts, modifying pictures, and searching for the videos. At the same time, as there is no support for this news piece in Russian or English. So one can only speculate, that it is some individuals attempt to create waves in the media.
It is also not clear why the false news was distributed. Andrius Dilda, from the Lithuanian Army, who commented on the incident to Lithuania’s Delfi, thought it was meant to test the work of government agencies, the performance of distribution channels and strategies, and the reactions of public authorities to the attack.
Propastop thinks that the case shows how fake news with a certain appearance can be produced and broadcasted with relatively simple means. However, it’s not as easy to get it spread. There is a need for a big channel network or a so-called bot army. We also see how important the contribution of the media and government is to the debunking of such cases. Recently, for example, the Foreign Ministry in Estonia swiftly debunked one fake-news (read more about Õhtuleht).
The case of Lithuanian fake news has also been analysed by the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab and the Disinformation Review.
Photo: screenshot from vimeo.com and of the fake-news, compared to the original news.