Just in time for Valentine's Day, the latest Rainey Center study examines how Russian propaganda efforts are being conducted through a surprising medium: online dating apps.
A new white paper by Rainey Center Associate Fellow and Ukrainian political scholar Veronika Velch shows how a female university student's accusations of sexual harassment against a high ranking Ukrainian police official -- including fake screenshots of Tinder messages threatening her and her family -- went viral, causing immeasurable harm to his reputation and increasing distrust of the police.
The student soon retracted her story and admitted she had been paid to make the accusations, but it was too late to repair the damage. Many thought the fake Tinder screenshots looked convincingly real, and the official's online reputation is now tied -- perhaps for years to come -- to a sexual harassment scandal he did not cause.
The broader implications of this incident, as Velch examines, have troubling consequences beyond Ukraine. The incentives to use this type of online information warfare against political opponents are clear. Social media and dating app profiles can be created quickly, without cost, and with virtually no safeguards to ensure a claimed online identity is genuine. In mere minutes, a fake digital avatar can be created and posting content that causes potentially permanent damage to a person's reputation, weakening (if not outright eliminating) their political power and influence.
Read Velch's white paper for the complete story, and learn what steps can be taken to safeguard against this invidious type of online disinformation attack: