Russian TV Channel Blames Internet For Suckering It Into Running A Fake Photo Of A Ukrainian Jet Shooting Down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17

from the unfortunately,-'society'-had-previously-been-named-in-several-other-down dept

Chasing eyeballs but catching internet infamy. That’s Russia’s Channel One, which took an unsourced photograph from an online forum and turned it into a complete embarassment.

Friday, Russia’s Channel 1 featured a photo they claimed proved a Ukrainian jet fighter shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in July, only to have it disproved hours later as an obvious fake, according to Buzzfeed

The state-run television channel presented the image, claiming it been taken moments before the passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine, to bolster Moscow’s contention that the passenger plane was brought down by a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jet, killing all 298 people on board.

Because it agreed with the Russian narrative, no one at Channel One bothered looking into the validity of the photo. The (supposed) engineer presenting the “evidence” claimed the “sensational photo” came from an American MIT graduate. This lent the photo a bit of short-lived credibility, but what the engineer said about the photo’s origin wasn’t strictly true.

George Bilt—who said he is an MIT graduate and aviation expert with 26 years experience, but would not provide further biographical details—said that he had come across an earlier report by the Russian Union of Engineers (RUE) blaming a Ukrainian fighter jet for the crash, and thought that it concurred with his own amateur findings. When he saw the picture online, Bilt wrote to Andreyevsky, the “expert” from the broadcast, with a link to the forum where the image was posted, clearly stating that he had found it there.

The photo’s legitimacy was soon decimated by a number of internet sleuths.

Hours after the picture was shown, Russian and international bloggers called the image a fake, noting the logo for Malaysia Airlines was misplaced on the plane and the clouds in the picture were identical to those found in a Google Earth image from 2012. Bloggers later noted that fighter jet in the picture appeared to be a Russian MiG-29 and not an Su-27, and the the picture of the airliner looked like it had been lifted from Google Images, when requesting ‘Boeing view from above.’

As was the pedigree of the “engineer” who presented the photo as fact:

The Russian Union of Engineers turned out not to add up either. Ivan Andreyevsky, the “expert” quoted in the show, does not appear to have an engineering education. A quick analysis of his PhD turned up obvious signs of plagiarism.

But the fun didn’t really begin until the head of the Russian Union of Engineers (Vladimir Saulyanov) defended the presentation of the fake photo as fact with a statement simultaneously sublimely ridiculous and the truest words ever spoken.

“How could we check it?” Saulyanov said. “It came to us from the internet.”

With any luck, Saulyanov’s Excuse will become the go-to defense when anything is erroneously published anywhere from this moment on.

And with that, the internet switched gears, crafting their own versions of Bilt’s Photo (which, in his defense, was never presented as a factual depiction).

One speculated that a Nazi flying saucer was involved.

Another, crafted by Sophisticated Jane Doe of Fight Copyright Trolls, offered this equally-plausible scenario.

As for Bilt, who is now somewhat of a lightning rod for anti-Russian sentiment, he has given a long statement to Buzzfeed concerning his involvement in this debacle.

Bilt said that he was shocked to see his email, which he thought that he had written to Andreyevsky in confidence, used on Russian TV as proof of the Kremlin’s claims, citing him as a source. “I am quite unhappy that my bona fide informal attempt possibly became a source of yet another battle in a media war,” he said. “This was definitely not my intention. I am also not looking for a cheap fame. This tragedy is simply too awful to gain from it.”

The final sentence of his statement is at least as incisive as Saulyanov’s Excuse. However, Bilt’s statement carries with it the gravitas of being deliberate rather than inadvertent. When a media outlet becomes a mouthpiece for state narratives, it is everything Bilt says succinctly about Channel One’s actions.

“Those folks are either desperate or totally unprofessional,” he said.

I’d put some money on both.

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Comments on “Russian TV Channel Blames Internet For Suckering It Into Running A Fake Photo Of A Ukrainian Jet Shooting Down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Fake Photos?

“When a media outlet becomes a mouthpiece for state narratives…”

Seems like that goes for CNN, ABC, CBS, etc. as well. After all, our narrative regarding all things having to do with the situation in Ukraine seems to conform with our government’s official version of the story also. It seems that on more than one occasion our news sources have shown fake photos showing all sorts of interesting stuff going on in Ukraine since our government instigated the crisis beginning more or less a year ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fake Photos?


They are underlings to american puppet states and the queer world order. Canada has a large minority of ukrainians, Great Britain is as much of a US lap-dog as they get and Merkel is just another ex-Warsaw pact liberal who needs to talk down the great russian nation to avoid people fleeing over the border to the true manly nation.

sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

Thanks for he shout out.

While the entire world (including those in Russia who are no zombified) is laughing, many major Russian news outlets didn’t even bother retracting this shame:

Говорит Москва
Телеканал Звезда
Комсомольская правда

Anonymous Coward says:

Why the double standard at Techdirt?

This whole thing is just plain stupid. The odds of an orbiting satellite just happening to be overhead photographing that precise area at that exact second is, to say the least, an extraordinary coincidence. Anyone with even a basic understanding of how satellite photography works would understand that. Therefore, the photo’s alleged authenticity would be extremely suspect from the very start.

While TV channels (and most any other news organizations) have been frequently known to run stories based on false or unverified information (Judith Miller’s series of front-page stories for the New York Times on Iraq “WMD” come to mind) let’s not forget that in the case of Ukraine, both the Ukrainian government and NATO have been putting out false propaganda and fake satellite images supposedly “proving” that Russian military forces are operating inside Ukraine. And yet after months of making these allegations time and again, they’ve still not been able to provide any evidence of their claim that Russian forces have been operating inside Ukraine (apparently continuously) for the last eight months.

Yet this story will never die, no matter how many times it’s been debunked. The difference is that now, photographs are no longer routinely offered as proof, since they’ve been debunked so many times in the past.

Something that I’m trying to understand though, is why Techdirt has been completely silent about the never-ending stream of fake photographs coming from the Ukrainian side for months and published in major US media, yet jumps at the opportunity to point fingers at a fake photograph coming from the (apparently) Russian side and published in Russia media.

Why the double standard at Techdirt?

Noel Coward says:

Re: Why the double standard at Techdirt?

Tech Dirt is not the debunker here of these fake photographs – Tech Dirt is reporting on a net-wide prooving of fakery whilst the news outlets and the organisations were still claiming they were real.

Now, as to the double standards – you may believe that these other photos are fake, but many of them are REAL photos just that they are not necessarily of what the news outlets claim or that there could be other explanations/interpretations of the photos. That’s not quite the same thing is it? Tech Dirt doesn’t aim to disect every political news story – it’s tech based for a start! The clues are there…

This story is based around the quote “How could we check it? It came to us from the internet.” which is very much the kind of thing Tech Dirt reports on!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why the double standard at Techdirt?

On the subject: Russian official “evidence” is completely valid. But exactly as claimed about the US evidence, it is completely impossible to draw any concrete conclusions from it and the narrative provided has been either completely lacking or very sparse, which is a good sign. When it has hit russian media, well…

What most russian media are running with is something else completely. Both ukrainian media and russian media are in a zombie propaganda war where everything with even the slightest possibility to be true is served as undeniable evidence when it underpins their narrative.

Most european media have been pretty quiet about the situation in Ukraine except for small mentions of “continuous fighting”. NATO has not been caught lying either. That is again a question of spin of the media taking answers out of context.

I think the separatists are the best source of entertainment. They have been out talking about how they thought the plane was a ukrainian transport when they had it shot down, they have claimed 1200 people entering from Russia after having recieved training and they were mentioning new equipment coming from the russian side of the border several times. Other separatists have the opposite narrative, naturally, but it seems like someone among them are withholding or lying. Looking at it from a distance much of it is a tragedy of media propaganda and lemmings.

sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why the double standard at Techdirt?

You guys are lucky you can’t read Russian. Because the army of trolls on the Russian sites push the idea that since Google is under the NSA thumb, it has recently replaced the satellite images in the area in order to discredit the impeccable evidence.

I’m horrified of the idea of Techdirt trolls learning about the International Forum Troll Exchange Program.

Anonymous Coward says:

Business as usual

You are not giving enough credits to the Russian state controlled media for their (successful) effort to create a parallel reality for their viewers.
This blunder is not a mistake – this is how they operate nowadays. They do not care if the “facts” they present turn out to be lies and/or fake. They have enough resources to produce a stream of such lies, and once it’s on mainstream TV – it is true, it becomes part of the new reality.
For example once they showed a “documentary” on how Ukrainian “fascists” are crucifying children –

This Ukrainian jet fighter conspiracy theory is just one example out of hundreds of lies (

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Decimated =/= devastated

Yes. It does. Language evolves. Get with the times. It is now quite widely accepted that decimate means devastate. Yes, it’s true that it originally meant reduce by one tenth, but that’s an obsolete definition and no longer one that is in common usage.

It’s always odd to see a news story describe a tragedy using a word that means a (relatively) minor loss.

No, it’s not odd. It’s the way the language is. This pedantic attempt to refashion the word “decimate” as it was used centuries ago is getting annoying. I know it’s become popular with hipsters, but please, let it go.

Andyj says:

I have a completely different take on this from both sides.

Look on Google and its an ugly patchwork WITH NO MATCHING CLOUDS!. One lie put to rest. This image is far superior to GE’s offering

Obviously the yanks have had their greedy little eyes on the place for a good while due all those dated GE overlays.

No witnesses saw a BUK smoke trail but they did see fighter jets.

The fragmentation blast off a BUK is pretty big! This was deffo brought down by an air launched missile.

Another lie. The images came off a guy in the USA, so what has “Putins poor attempts at photoshop” got to do with it?

A fly in the ointment. The missile blew on the port side. Not starboard.
There is another problem. The image is posted in UTC shows the shadows 1~2 hours in the wrong direction. This could of been released to discredit Russia. Not a product of Russian spy satellites

Big point never publicly made. Putins jet and MH-17 appear very similar indeed from the side if not properly reconnoitred. The shape, size and paintwork are too similar.

To think the Ukrainians thought they took Putins plane down and going to blame Putins demise on the rebels before they realised the gaff with the wrong plane. BUK? Nice try, no sweetie.

Oh yes, Ukraine will not release the radar data nor the comms. The investigation is under wraps.

The photo was decimated by internet sleuths? How about US paid trolls?

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