Home Celebrity OSINT sleuths expose celebrity “volunteer soldier” in Ukraine as fraud

OSINT sleuths expose celebrity “volunteer soldier” in Ukraine as fraud


In March, a month after Russia declared war on Ukraine, a new account called CanadianUkrain1 joined Twitter, claiming to be a North American citizen, to join Ukraine’s front against Russian aggression. “Fight against Russian invaders along the Mykolayiv-Kherson axis,” reads his biography. “Glory to Ukraine!”

CanadianUkrain1 shares video and images of him claiming to be withdrawing from battle, claiming to have killed a Russian soldier with tomahawk once wrote a Tweet thread About another top-secret bike mission through Kherson. But most of the account’s posts resemble the work of amateur OSINT researchers, commonly known as OSINT: usually anonymous social media users who use publicly accessible information gleaned from platforms such as Google Maps to analyze conflict zones. CanadianUkrain1 will repost the content, mostly from Telegram, adding his own comments.

His following skyrocketed, but the ruse didn’t last long.

“He’s putting out some fancy BS,” Calibre Obscura, a popular pseudonym OSINT Twitter users, People specializing in weapons identification told Rest of the world. “It’s the fun of the internet, cinematic narrative.”

Shortly after the account was created, CanadianUkrain1 began to come under scrutiny from the online OSINT community – including Aric Toler, researcher From professional open source publication Bellingcat – he started digging holes in his story.A Twitter user named Nexus Intel was able to trace The IP address of CanadianUkrain1, proving that he was actually tweeting from Ontario, Canada, not the Ukrainian front. OSINT investigators have identified an individual suspected of being connected to this account. Rest of the world The account has been contacted but has not heard back from this person.

The recent Russian invasion and war in Ukraine has thrust the amateur OSINT community into the spotlight, with accounts gaining dozens of accounts since amateur OSI detectives gained traction on social media dissecting atrocities in Syria, Iraq, and eastern Ukraine. Thousands of followers and mainstream media cite their work.

With this growing fame, the community has had to consider the challenges facing those in pursuit of internet glory. Rest of the world Talked to four members of the amateur OSINT community and three open source experts who told Rest of the world The case of CanadianUkrain1 represents a deeper problem – incentives on platforms like Twitter that encourage inaccurate and sensational information. “With social media, you’re rewarded for being the first,” says Calibre Obscura. “It doesn’t encourage a validation culture or a culture of waiting to see if things are right.”

Steven Seegel, an Eastern European historian at the University of Texas at Austin, said that while amateur OSINT accounts on social media have existed since the early days of the Syrian civil war, in the decade since , the field has become increasingly specialized.

“With social media, you’re rewarded for being number one.”

Bellingcat acts as a model, often hiring formerly amateur OSINT investigators, such as Bellingcat training and research director Aric Toler, to become salaried researchers.Now, like New York Times and Washington post Have your own visual forensics team, borrowing from the work of OSINT.

The increased employability of researchers has also contributed to the desperation of the amateur OSINT community, Seegal said. “A lot of people are learning skills while finding jobs for themselves.”

Some account users have take insert Put OSINT in their handle or resume and use the word’s popularity to gain followers or land a job, experts say. “They pretended to be intelligence agents,” said Toller, who described the account users as “playing CIA or FBI personnel.”

CanadianUkrain1 combines so-called original content from the front lines with open-source-style analysis that is irresistible to his social media audience. By the end of April, his account had more than 100,000 followers. “Aspiring amateur OSINT people — the most radical ones — want to be media personalities,” Siegel told Rest of the world.

However, just after CanadianUkrain1’s profile exploded, it collapsed in surprising fashion when he posted a photo of his assault rifle. Another OSINT account user – known as Kung Flu Panda – point out That’s an air gun. “Exploring fraud is like coming up with a magic trick,” says Kung Flu Panda. “The first step is to stop believing in magic.”

On July 1, CanadianUkrain1 deleted his account and left Twitter.

Using the work of amateur OSINT researchers, Joanne Stocker, a reporter for OSINT and news outlet Storyful, praised the meticulous and transparent nature of the OSINT investigation. Even so, she warns, there is growing noise from accounts chasing influence and reposting content from Telegram as their own. As CanadaUkrain1 has shown the community, the obvious danger is the spread of incorrect or false information. This challenge has spread beyond the confines of war. QAnon followers often appear as OSINT analysts, benefiting from the community’s growing legitimacy, Toler said. “It makes it very difficult to verify the information,” Stock told Rest of the world.

However, the risks posed by accounts like CanadianUkrain1 are the same as the skills to eliminate fraud. Using visual forensics techniques to discredit CanadianUkrain1’s accounts – Nexus Intel and Kung Flu Panda – are far from professional and even run by major figures in the amateur community. Both have less than 3,000 followers. However, thanks to their open source capabilities, they were able to expose the scam.

“This is for anyone who aspires to be [CanadianUkrain1],” Siegel said.

Justin Peden, the user behind the popular The Intel Crab account, sees the amateur OSINT community as a decentralized community able to unite against the common cause of debunking CanadianUkrain1. “It’s such a collaborative space, when it wants to be and has to be – shoot down this poser like that,” he told Rest of the world. “It feels really cool.”

Even so, Peden laments that the rise of OSINT’s influence means an accelerated spread of misinformation and disinformation from followers and opportunists. “Most of us have never just discovered but debunked a lot,” he said. “I noticed a lot of what I did – compared to this time last year – was that I spent half a day talking nonsense.”

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