Diligent media fact-checkers fail to notice Ukrainian president’s fake tweet

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist. Having lived and worked in the US, Germany and Russia, she is currently based in Budapest, Hungary. Her work has been featured by Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, Russia Direct, teleSUR, The BRICS Post and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ, check out her Facebook page, or visit her website: danielle-ryan.com
Diligent media fact-checkers fail to notice Ukrainian president’s fake tweet
Journalists for mainstream media outlets frequently toot their own horns about how careful they are when it comes to “fact-checking” and combating “fake news” online. Holding people to account for spreading false information online is important, they say.

While that may be true, it seems that some people still get a pass. Because last weekend, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko managed to escape the watchful eyes of rigorous and impartial fact-checkers everywhere.

To mark the anniversary of the USSR’s forced evacuation of western Ukrainians to Siberia in 1947, Poroshenko sent out a tweet. The written content of the tweet was unremarkable, but the attached photo caught people’s attention, for the simple reason that it had nothing to do with the event or anniversary Poroshenko was attempting to mark.

Instead of showing Ukrainians being deported to Siberia, it showed Jews being deported to an extermination camp — and was taken five years earlier in the Jewish ghetto of Lodz in Poland. It is actually a well-known photo which shows elderly women carrying children and personal belongings toward an assembly point for deportations to Chelmno, as explained on the US Holocaust Museum’s online archive.

Well, the fact-checkers and fake-news-busters must be having a spontaneous week off, because it’s been five days — and not only has the tweet not been deleted, it has attracted no attention whatsoever from journalists covering Ukraine for Western publications.

Imagine the furor it would have created if, for example, US President Donald Trump had tweeted something similar. It would have been immediately classed as irresponsible “fake news,” and hundreds of journalists would be earnestly smashing away at their keyboards in a collective rage.

Now, of course, anything that Trump says is going to attract more attention than anything Poroshenko says — but you’d think at least one of the journalists tasked specifically with covering Ukraine would have noticed this one. Not so. A search on Google News, at the time of writing, reveals not a single mention of it by any mainstream English-language publication.

Even after the head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, published a post on Facebook calling Poroshenko’s tweet “strange” along with a screen capture of the photograph as it appears at the US Holocaust Museum’s website, it aroused no interest from the media. Nada. Zilch.

Sadly, this should hardly be surprising when you consider the same journalists have given Poroshenko a free pass for a lot worse. Take, for example, last week, when he said the actions of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a paramilitary group which collaborated with Nazi Germany and murdered tens of thousands of Jews, would remain an “inspiration” for generations to come.

This was a few hours before about 20,000 neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Kiev to honor that group — many offering Hitler salutes, holding lit torches and waving flags adorned with Nazi symbols. Possibly the biggest Nazi demonstration in Europe since World War II, and Western correspondents were nowhere to be found. When you think of it that way, they were hardly going to suddenly show up to get angry about a tweet.

By comparison, if three Nazis walk down the street tomorrow in Moscow, Western correspondents won’t be able to get there fast enough. Likewise, if the Russian president were a fan of personal tweeting, they’d be glued to his profile night and day waiting for a mistake — and you can be sure, if they got one, the whole world would know about it instantly.

But what could possibly be behind their indifference to Poroshenko’s fake tweet — and indeed their general lack of interest in covering major events that are happening in Ukraine right under their noses? It’s a real head-scratcher, but maybe it could have something to do with the fact that Ukraine is, ostensibly at least, attempting to follow the righteous pro-Western path toward freedom, democracy, and all that other good stuff — and that is all that really matters to them.

Since his election in 2014, both the Western press and Western leaders have coddled millionaire Poroshenko. As time has gone on, they have also, by their apparent indifference, appeared to endorse the suicidal path he has pursued for Ukraine.

While he should have lost credibility long ago, Poroshenko is still portrayed by some as a reformer. This is due not to the fact he has actually reformed anything, but that he is “pro-West” and “anti-Russia.” His ideological and horrendously short-sighted obsession with severing all economic and cultural ties with Russia has earned him the image of an embattled anti-Putin hero. This is an image he is more than happy to play up to in order to stave off any serious criticism from the West — and the ‘poor me, I’m up against the baddies in Moscow’ routine works remarkably well, as we’ve seen.

It doesn’t matter how many Nazis take to the streets in Kiev. It doesn’t matter how corrupt Poroshenko’s government is, or how little trust the public has in their supposed leaders. It doesn’t matter that nearly 60 percent of Ukrainians are living below the poverty line. It doesn’t matter that four years after the Maidan protests, Ukraine is at risk of becoming a failed state.

And, if none of that matters, an ill-advised tweet certainly isn’t going to catch their attention.

UPD: The post has been eventually deleted from Petro Poroshenko’s Twitter account @poroshenko.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.