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How Did Russia Use Deepfakes To Spread Misinformation Against Ukraine?

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
10th March 2022
How Did Russia Use Deepfakes To Spread Misinformation Against Ukraine?
AI-generated profiles were promoting Russian-backed propaganda websites (Getty).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

It is conventionally believed that repetition makes facts seem more trustworthy, regardless of whether they are true or not. A propaganda law often credited to the Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels says, "repeat a lie often enough, and it will become true."

Recently, following the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, repetition is no longer persuasive. New technologies have shown the easiest ways of generating misleading news and spreading them, especially using deep fake techniques and artificial intelligence.

Nowadays, fake news and misinformation continue to spread as tensions between Russia and Ukraine develop. Fact-checkers and fact-checking platforms have faced many difficulties while debunking the large amount of fake news related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Media and disinformation experts have previously mentioned that Russian leaders and state-backed media gave a false narrative related to the reasons behind the invasion. They have also anticipated the growth of disinformation because of international pressure on Russia and the domestic Russian resistance to war. 

During the conflict between the two countries, experts have tracked fake social media profiles created with artificial intelligence-generated pictures that appear to be authentic. False accounts purporting to be Ukrainian journalists were found to be disseminating false information about the Ukrainian war and the conflict in general.

After Russian trolls were caught creating fake accounts for Ukrainian citizens who hate their country or oppose their government, Facebook has removed many profiles, including that of an aviation engineer and a guitar teacher spreading anti-Kyiv propaganda.

The social media giant has revealed that the pictures used to create the fake profiles were AI-generated and did not belong to real people. They were made using artificial intelligence to spread propaganda like the story of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “building a neo-Nazi dictatorship.”

NBC reporter Ben Collins discovered a fake profile of an aviation engineer named Vladimir Bondarenko. Bondarenko, who claims to be from Kyiv, writes posts in which he expresses his disdain for the Ukrainian government, but his photos were AI-generated and showed a weirdly shaped left ear.

Collins also mentioned a female AI-created account that posed as Irina Kerimova, Vladimir's coworker, in a Twitter thread. She is a guitar teacher who, according to her profile, became the editor-in-chief of a Russian propaganda website in 2017. Her image, however, is also AI-generated, and her earrings are mismatched.

There are many platforms that can produce such images. Collins mentioned one of the platforms that assist in the creation of photos of people who do not exist. For example, the website www.thispersondoesnotexist.com can generate random fake faces.

According to the Daily Mail, platforms that detect fake and fraudulent documents identified these images as deepfakes following their appearance on numerous social media platforms, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Meta's company discovered a small network of nearly 40 Facebook and Instagram accounts targeting Ukraine. The social media giant has blocked their domains from being shared on social media platforms and has spoken with other tech platforms and stakeholders. Meanwhile, Twitter has suspended a large number of accounts involved in spreading propaganda.

A well-known Belarusian hacking group that works for the government was also involved in the Russian propaganda campaign. The group hacked the social media accounts of Ukrainian journalists and officials and published a video of Ukrainian soldiers waving a white surrender flag.

Misbar’s Sources:
Ben Collins
Business Today
Daily Mail
NBC News