Should I Become a Cyber Elf to Help Ukraine?
When I first started trying to figure out what was going on with this war that Russia has started with Ukraine (after being invited to be a Contributing Writer/Editor for this new website called Jets for Ukraine, where this article was first published), I did what many Americans do who don’t have military combat training or a whole lot of knowledge about foreign countries — I read Time Magazine. It was there that I found my first article source…an outstanding piece about several citizens of Lithuania who were motivated to go fight for Ukraine against Russia.
The first thing I noticed was that many of them were very young, in their early twenties. Hoping to get an interview, I sent one of them a friend request (that included article interview questions) on Facebook. He accepted it, but in his first message back to me told me that he didn’t understand English.
In addition to our language barrier, he responded harshly to me in his next message, typing “Who are you to analyze me?” (Facebook translated the message to English). I never force anyone to interview if they don’t want to, so I just thanked him for his time, and told him that if he changed his mind to let me know.
Still, his response made me feel like he was suspicious of me, and made me reminisce on back when Russia had created that fake news outlet on Facebook several years ago. Maybe this young soldier was reluctant to let me interview him because of what Russia did back then, or because of what Russia is currently doing on Facebook during this war. Hell, for all he knew, I could have been another one of those virtual fake editors from that country!
I say that because, shortly after the interview attempt, I read yet another report in USA Today about how Russia is still spreading so much misinformation on social media outlets in 2022. No wonder the soldier felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to talk to me over Facebook Messenger (via video or text) about where he was located or exactly what he was doing during his training as a volunteer Lithuanian soldier for Ukraine.
According to the Time article I referred to a few paragraphs ago, many of the soldiers feel that Russia will not stop if they win the war and take over Ukraine. In fact, a large number of the militant volunteers feel that Kremlin forces may move on and attempt to conquer more countries, one of them being their own, Lithuania.
When the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania started asking for volunteers to help Ukraine (doctors, nurses etc. to assist in the wartime efforts), they got almost 400 brave people to sign up in just a few days. I contacted a Chief Specialist at the ministry, Mr. Julijanas Galisanskis, by phone and email, and asked him if he thought that Russia may next target Lithuania if they are successful in their takeover of Ukraine, and why so many soldiers thought that way.
“Unfortunately,” he began, “your question is beyond the competence of the Ministry of Health. Our colleagues from the Defense Ministry might help with the answer.”
Keeping that in mind, I also was curious about Online Elves (also called Cyber Elves), people who volunteer to diligently seek out Russian Trolls that distribute disinformation and propaganda on social media. According to the German Marshall Fund (aka GMF, a policy organization that’s dedicated to the idea that Europe and the United States will always be stronger when they work together), the Elves started with just 20 people from Lithuania back in 2014, and have grown today to well over 4,000 volunteer “keyboard warriors”.
I wondered whether or not these “Elves” had to register to volunteer through places like the Lithuanian Ministry to fight online, or if they were simply rogue citizens who did this on their own without permission from anyone.
“The Ministry of Health doesn’t organize or coordinate internet activities meant to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation,” Mr. Galisanskis told me, “but we actively cooperate with the media and use our own means of communication to present accurate and reliable information to our public.”
I don’t have combat training, but as an online Content Writer, I started thinking that maybe becoming one of the thousands of Cyber Elves might be a way that I myself could help Ukraine in the war against Russia. I watched a YouTube video entitled Russian Propaganda in the Internet Age: How to Spot a Russian Troll Online, and the checklist it provided was as follows.
How to Spot a Russian Troll (on Facebook accounts):
➢ Lots of pro-Kremlin content.
➢ Lots of pro-Trump content.
➢ Lots of spelling mistakes; you can tell that English isn’t their first language.
➢ It’s very likely a female Facebook account.
➢ Not a lot of followers.
➢ A lot of tweeting @ people.
➢ A lot of tweeting “alternative sources”.
➢ Obsession with certain topics and themes as you scroll down the account….especially when it consists of nothing except those same recurring themes.
One of the speakers in the video said that there’s really no scientific way to prove that suspicious accounts are actual Russian trolls, because in reality there are simply people out there who just act and post like that on Facebook. But, he also said that after being in the troll-spotting game long enough, you begin to see and recognize it when someone is more than likely a troll.
For my own security and anonymity, I definitely wouldn’t announce in this article if I’m actually going to become an online Cyber Elf to help Ukraine in the informational war against Russia. But I will say this…there are so many Americans who sit on the computer all day long playing around, but swear up and down that they care about what’s happening to Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of Europeans young and old are volunteering free time out of their day/week to be Cyber Elves…just imagine if more rogue Americans (who in many cases may have even better access than Europeans to the internet) decided to do the same thing? It could really cripple Russia’s online propaganda and misinformation efforts via our everyday social media channels, especially on Facebook.
I wanted to see if there were any other places I should look for more information. Then, like John Stockton to Karl Malone, Chief Specialist Galisanskis gave me one more quick and effective assist. “There are some civil initiatives,” he told me, “like DebunkEU.org or Callrussia.org, that fight Russian propaganda and disinformation.”
I thanked him for those potential sources for my next article (which I will write for the Jets for Ukraine website), as well as for recommending earlier that I contact the Ministry of National Defense for the Republic of Lithuania to answer the questions that he himself couldn’t.
I then thought about sharing this present article to my Medium account so that other Content Writers like myself could see what Cyber Elves really are, and decide if they wanted to anonymously become one.
Interview. Julijanas Galisanskis, Chief Specialist at the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania. Interviewee’s contact information retrieved from https://sam.lrv.lt/en/contacts-for-themedia
Carries, J. 1 Sept 2020. Russian agency created fake leftwing news outlet with fictitional editors, Facebook says. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/sep/01/facebook-russia-internet-research-agencyfake-news
Abend L. and Vilnius. 7 March 2022. Meet the Foreign Volunteers Risking Their Lives to Defend Ukraine — and Europe. Time Magazine. Retrieved from https://time.com/6155670/foreignfighters-ukraine-europe/
Russian Propaganda in the Internet Age: How to Spot a Russian Troll Online. Time Magazine on YouTube. Retrieved from https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Tis_FWtqS38
Kleckova, A. 28 Jan 2022. The Role of Cyber “Elves” Against Russian Information Operations. GMF. Retrieved from https://www.gmfus.org/news/role-cyber-elves-against-russianinformation-operations
Guynn, J. 24 March 2022. Ukraine’s Volunteer Online Army: Meet the Cyber Elves Fighting Russian Trolls on Facebook. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2022/03/24/ukraine-war-facebook-elves-russiatrolls/9457834002/
Originally published at https://a10s4ukraine.com.