Seeing Through the Fog: The Impact of Information Operations on War Crimes Investigations in Ukraine

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Lindsay Freeman
Publication Date
July 19, 2023
Publication Type
Conflict, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Open Source Investigations, Technology, Technology, Law, & Policy Program


Published in: 2023 15th International Conference on Cyber Conflict: Meeting Reality (CyCon)


As Russian forces closed in on Kyiv, a MiG-29 Fulcrum swooped in and took down six Russian jets. The next day, the same MiG shot down ten more. Stories of the hero fighter pilot spread like wildfire throughout Ukraine and across the internet, turning the “Ghost of Kyiv” into a living legend. But he was not living, or even real. The pilot and his exploits were a total fiction created as part of an influence campaign spread via social media to strike terror into Russian forces, fortify the resolve of Ukrainian citizens, and amaze the world with Ukraine’s unexpected strength and courage.The strategic use of the online information environment is only one facet of intangible warfare between Russia and Ukraine that makes this contemporary conflict particularly unique and complex. Propaganda, disinformation, and psychological operations are as old as warfare itself, but advanced digital technologies now reshape conflicts in often unanticipated, unforeseen, and surprising ways. These changing dynamics inevitably have an impact on those tasked with investigating war crimes and establishing the truth of what occurred on the battlefield. This paper examines the strategic use of digital information and communications technologies in the Russia–Ukraine conflict to better understand how they are changing the dynamics of war, war narratives, and war crimes investigations. The first section of the paper briefly explains how war crimes investigators and prosecutors are increasingly relying on digital material as evidence in their cases. The second section considers how digital information operations are being deployed and how these operations impact the investigation of war crimes. Finally, the third section highlights some of the tools that can help war crimes investigators fight back against a complex and chaotic information environment.