Fighting fake news on the front line co-founder Olga Yurkova poses for a photograph after speaking about fighting fake news in the Ukraine at the TED Conference, April 10, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2018

Fighting fake news on the front line

  • The Ukrainian journalist and colleagues weighed into the battle with a website after Russian soldiers entered Crimea under cover
  • Among stories debunked by was a hotly spreading one about a child of a Russia supporter being crucified in a Ukranian city

VANCOUVER: Olga Yurkova has spent years fighting fake news on the front line.

The Ukrainian journalist and colleagues weighed into the battle with a website after Russian soldiers entered Crimea under cover and their country appeared to become a testing lab for using bogus stories to manipulate public opinion.

“We needed to do something to respond to fakes, to explain what is true and what is false,” Yurkova told AFP on Tuesday at the prestigious TED Conference, where she is among the speakers.

“There is this huge propaganda machine on the other side with money, professionals and systems powering it, and volunteers on our side. But, we do what we can do.”

Among stories debunked by was a hotly spreading one about a child of a Russia supporter being crucified in a Ukranian city.

Not only was the inflammatory tale a lie, the square mentioned did not exist.

On Tuesday, the website that Yurkova took part in launching four years ago displayed unmasked bogus tales including a lie about a US senator saying sanctions against Russia don’t work. boasted 53,400 fans on Facebook; 25,800 followers at Twitter, and more than 51,000 subscribers.


“Propaganda became a huge problem for the Ukraine four years ago,” Yurkova said.

“When we told the world about this, nobody listened to us. Now, the whole world faces this problem.”

She believes fake news tactics refined in the Ukraine have been aimed at the US, Europe and elsewhere.

A longtime journalist, Yurkova was keenly aware of the need to earn people’s trust. With the spread of fake news, she saw people lose faith in media of all kinds, as well as in institutions.

The mission at was simple — take news and check it against the facts.

“With election meddling in the US and Russian troll farms, the world started to realize the scale of the problem,” Yurkova said.

“Do your research, don’t just believe, is the only way to stop this culture of fake news.”


Yurkova conceded that it may be futile trying to get truth to people seeking stories that confirm their biases, but saw hope in reaching those without entrenched opinions.

“We fight for the people in the middle in a polarized world,” Yurkova said.

“We spread the idea of checking facts.”

Among simple lessons she shared was that, unfortunately, truth tends to be boring while fake news veers toward dramatic and outrageously emotional ‘click-bait.’

Since fake news is manufactured, it can easily be packed with juicy details.

“The propaganda machine spreads trash; we try to wash it away.”

“It is a really huge machine. It is not just Russian state media, it is private Russian media; useful idiots in different countries who spread misinformation, and a lot of politicians.

And, while Facebook is the website’s main source of traffic, it could be time to find a new way for people to communicate given how the social network has been abused by purveyors of fake news, according to Yurkova.

“I can’t fix human nature,” she said. “The best advice I can give is that when you see something interesting, do something to check whether there is proof it is true. It takes just seconds to Google something.” has at its website tools that can be used for checking the authenticity of headlines, photos, videos and news.

Since starting as an all volunteer operations, has won grants to help support a team of about 30 people.

“I think every country needs their own StopFake,” Yurkova said.

Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018

Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.