Last night, several Twitter accounts verified with the blue check mark, and a YouTube channel shared false information about an alleged increase in nuclear threats. They claimed that Russian military jets were being armed with nuclear payloads aimed at Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Such unfounded speculation and blatant lies about global politics and war zones are shared on social media.
However, this misinformation is even more reckless and dangerous in light of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Adding to the chaos, the verified Twitter accounts also spread the rumor that Russia was preparing a nuclear response shortly after two drones exploded over the Kremlin. Moscow accused Kyiv and the United States of attempting to assassinate Vladimir Putin.
This situation highlights the impact of Twitter’s eroded moderation policies and the new Twitter Blue scheme, allowing anyone to purchase the same verification status once reserved for legitimate news organizations. It’s essential that social media platforms take responsibility for their role in preventing the spread of false information, particularly in the context of political conflict and war zones.
“We are currently evaluating rumors of nuclear movement in Russia,” the verified account DEFCONWarningSystem said on Twitter. “Please remember that these are rumors only with no verification at the moment.” Despite having a verified blue checkmark and official-looking logos, DEFCONWarningSystem is not an official warning system. Its name and association with the term “DEFCON,” which is commonly linked to nuclear war, could lead people to believe that it is an authoritative source of information on the topic.
DEFCONWarningSystem’s Connections to Reagan-Era Christian Apocalyptic Movements
In reality, DEFCONWarningSystem is a private intelligence organization that claims to have been analyzing the threat of nuclear war since 1984. It provides an alert code to the public, but it is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch.
A later Twitter note clarified that individuals should rely on something other than the DEFCON Warning System for strategic planning and should make their evaluations. This situation highlights the importance of carefully evaluating the credibility of sources of information, particularly in cases where misinformation could have significant consequences, such as in the context of nuclear war.
Upon visiting DEFCONWarningSystem’s website, it becomes apparent that the organization is connected to Christian apocalyptic movements from the Reagan era. The website includes links to the site of Hal Lindsey, the author of books such as The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. These non-fiction works envision a scenario where the world’s end occurs in a style consistent with evangelical Christianity.
An hour after its initial Tweet about possible nukes, DEFCONWarningSystem followed up. It said, “We are unable to verify any claims of either Russian nuclear movements not a heightened state of nuclear alert in Russia. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
The Role of Twitter in Spreading Misinformation about Nuclear Threats
DEFCONWarningSystem and pro-Ukrainian account Igor Sushko recently spread unconfirmed rumors about nuclear war on Twitter. DEFCONWarningSystem claimed to be an information aggregation account and justified posting unverified information by saying it was their duty. Sushko, on the other hand, tweeted a thread about nuclear weapons being loaded onto TU-22Ms strategic bombers. He linked to a YouTube live stream and shared personal details of Russian pilots supposedly flying the bombers carrying nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, Twitter’s new verification policies have made it easy to purchase credibility for $8 a month and get pushed to the top of the algorithm. Accounts like DEFCONWarningSystem should not be trusted regarding nuclear threats, yet its rumor went viral after an attack on the Kremlin.
It’s important to remember that nuclear tensions are high now, and the Kremlin has been very good at making atomic threats. However, a nuclear war will be highly monitored and signaled if it is about to break out. We should not rely on unverified rumors from social media accounts for strategic planning.