Posts casting doubt on evidence of alleged war crimes in Bucha have been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, analysis by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue has found.
Researchers analysed the 10 most shared posts on Facebook mentioning Bucha – a suburb of Kyiv formerly occupied by Russian forces – in 20 countries and found 55 posts disputing evidence of violence against civilians.
These posts were shared 208,000 times in the week to 6 April, compared with 172,000 shares that did not question the veracity of images emerging from the town.
Among the most popular posts mentioning Bucha, the average number of shares was three times higher for posts casting doubt on alleged war crimes compared with those which did not.
The mayor of Bucha told Reuters that 400 dead bodies had been uncovered since the Russians withdrew from the town, though this figure has yet to be independently verified. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and claimed photographs of corpses were staged.
However, satellite images published by the New York Times contradict Moscow’s claim that Ukrainian forces placed dead bodies in the street as a “staged provocation” after Russian soldiers had already withdrawn.
The images, taken in mid-March, show corpses on the streets in the days before the Russian retreat and their positions match those seen in other smartphone photos.
A report by Human Rights Watch has documented cases of apparent execution of civilians in Bucha, while the Guardian has also reported witness accounts of widespread violence.
Posts questioning evidence of Russian violence against civilians were present in Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic, among other EU countries.
The most shared post about Bucha in Austria – also the third most shared post in Germany – contained text copied from a pro-Russian German language outlet called Anti-Spiegel.
Echoing a Russian interpretation of the events, the post suggested that the victims were in reality killed by the Ukrainian army as a punishment for their support of the Russian army.
Francesca Visser, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said: “The findings show us that the challenges in confronting pro-Kremlin narratives and disinformation emanate from a wider set of actors than just Russian state media.
“Despite the efforts of independent factcheckers and journalists on the ground who debunked many of the false narratives spread by sources tied to the Russian state, these narratives managed to gain traction among a wide audience.
“It’s concerning that in the aftermath of the massacre, the most shared posts on Facebook are those casting doubt on the veracity of the images. It’s also concerning that posts coming from platforms and bloggers known for spreading false and misleading narratives are outperforming verified information. “
A spokesperson for Facebook said: “This report relies on a small sample size and misrepresents the scale and scope of our effort to combat misinformation related to the war in Ukraine.
“We have the most robust system for factchecking false claims of any platform and our factchecking partners have debunked multiple claims about the atrocities in Bucha in several languages including Ukrainian, Russian, and English.”