Verified Twitter Accounts Spread Misinfo About Imminent Nuclear Strike

YouTube and Twitter accounts spread rumors about nuclear war after two drones struck the Kremlin.
National Nuclear Security Administration photo.

Several bluecheck Twitter accounts and a YouTube channel spread misinformation about heightened nuclear threats online last night, saying that Russian military jets were being armed with nuclear payloads aimed at Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. 

Unfounded speculation and blatant lies about global politics and war zones are common on social media, but are even more reckless given the volatile conflict between Russia and Ukraine and Twitter’s eroded moderations policies and new Twitter Blue scheme, where any bad actor can pay for the same verification that used to be reserved for legitimate news organizations. 


The verified Twitter accounts also spread the rumor that Russia was preparing a nuclear response hours after two drones exploded over the Kremlin and Moscow accused Kyiv and the United States of attempting to assassinate Vladimir Putin. 

“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.”

DEFCONWarningSystem, with its verified blue checkmark and official looking logos, could be mistaken for some kind of official warning system. People have heard the word “DEFCON” and they know it’s associated with nuclear war. The account, however, has nothing to do with any official agency.

DEFCONWarningSystem says it’s a “private intelligence organization that has been analyzing the threat of nuclear war since 1984 and offers an alert code to the public.” It happens to share the name of the defense readiness condition (DEFCON) alert system that the U.S. President and Pentagon use to signal its readiness to conduct nuclear war.

A helpful Twitter note attached later explained that the account is “not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning.”


A quick glance of DEFCONWarningSytem’s website shows that it’s connected to Reagan-era christian apocalyptic movements. They link to the website of Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, non-fiction books that imagine an evangelical Christian-style end of the world scenario.

An hour after its initial Tweet about possible nukes, DEFCONWarningSystem followed up. “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,” it said.

This was not the only account spreading the nuclear rumor in the wake of the Kremlin attack. OSINTdefender, another verified Twitter account, also said it had heard rumors of nuclear movements and hedged that these reports were “extremely unconfirmed.” As well as being extremely unconfirmed, the rumors were extremely specific.

“Extremely Unconfirmed Reports that the Russian Strategic Nuclear Force has been ordered into a Heightened State of Alert today with Air-Launched Nuclear and Conventional Weapons being prepared at multiple Air Force Bases across Western Russia including Engels Air Base in the Saratov Region and Shaykovka Air Base in the Kaluga Region which both contain Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3 Strategic Bombers,” it said. I would like to Heavily Stress that there is so far No Evidence of this occurring with it currently only being Rumors from some Russian and Ukraine Sources.”


When asked why it was posting a series of unconfirmed rumors about a nuclear war, the account defended itself. “I feel it is my ‘Duty’ as an OSINT/Information Aggregation Account to Post this Info and then later down the line determine if it was True or False which is what I am currently attempting to do,” it said. “The only Information I don’t Post is stuff that is clearly either Trolling or Blatantly Propaganda.”

The wildest series of tweets about nuclear war came from pro-Ukrainian account Igor Sushko who unfurled a long thread about nuclear weapons being loaded onto TU-22Ms strategic bombers. "The source also claimed that for the first time nuclear weapons may be used, at least two 'items' are already located directly at one of the aforementioned airfields,” Sushko said on Twitter, quoting a source.

Sushko linked to a YouTube livestream and clipped bits from the broadcast to put on his Twitter thread. The thread included photos and personal details of the Russian pilots who were supposedly flying the bombers carrying nuclear weapons. “Osechkin [the YouTuber] is letting the pilots know that no tinted windows will protect them if they commit these war crimes,” he said on Twitter. “They will be identified and exposed.”

The nuclear attack on Kyiv never came.

The incident highlights one of the problems of Twitter's new verification policies. People can purchase credibility for $8 a month and get pushed to the top of the algorithm. Accounts like  DEFCONWarningSytem should absolutely not be listened to when it comes to nuclear threats, yet its rumor went viral in the aftermath of an attack on the Kremlin.

Nuclear tensions are high right now and the Kremlin has been very good at doing its own nuclear threats. In the days after its February invasion of Ukraine, Putin put its nuclear forces on high alert. More importantly, he told the world he’d done it. Nuclear movements are highly monitored and highly signaled—if nuclear war is about to break out, we aren’t going to learn about it from a blue check on Twitter tweeting out an unverified rumor for engagement.