Zelenskyy deepfake video goes viral, reflecting troubling new wave of disinformation

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook early March 18, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine. — Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

DUBAI: A deepfake video that claims to feature footage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is circulating online. In it, a figure identified as him is seen calling on citizens of his country to surrender to Russian forces.

A deepfake video uses artificial intelligence technology to create new, fake footage from existing images and videos. The results can appear quite convincing, although the "Zelenskyy" video appeared obviously fake, as many social media users pointed out.

Fact-checking website Verify confirmed this and stated: "Using video forensics tools and reverse image searching, Verify can confirm that this video was computer-generated using still images from Zelenskyy's earlier press conferences."

Zelenskyy himself posted a message on Instagram in response to the fake footage that included a real video of himself and the caption: "We are at home and protect Ukraine."

National TV news channel Ukraine 24 confirmed that hackers had succeeded in having the fake video featured on some live TV broadcasts and, briefly, on the channel's own website.

In a message posted on Facebook, the station said: "Friends, we have repeatedly warned about this. Nobody is going to give up."

Ukraine's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security issued a statement this month warning the public to be wary of disinformation attempts. It specifically addressed the issue of deepfake videos and how difficult they can be to distinguish from real footage, but added that Ukraine will never surrender.

Although this particular video has been debunked, and most people could tell it was not real, its rapid spread raises concerns over disinformation and subversion of the truth, especially during critical events such as times of war.

"This is the first one we've seen that really got some legs but I suspect it's the tip of the iceberg," Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is an expert in digital media forensics, told media organisation NPR.

"It pollutes the information ecosystem and it casts a shadow on all content, which is already dealing with the complex fog of war."

Sam Gregory, program director at Witness, a human rights and technology group, told Euronews: "This is the first deepfake that we've seen used in an intentional and broadly deceptive way."

He also shed additional light on the issue in a message posted on Twitter, in which he described this particular deepfake as a "best-case scenario," given that it was of poor quality and Ukrainian authorities had already warned the public to beware of deepfakes and swiftly responded to the phony video in a credible manner.

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, Facebook's parent company, wrote on Twitter that it had detected and deleted the video from its social media platforms.

"It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the Internet," he added.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all taken action to remove the fake video. – Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia/Tribune News Service

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