A deepfake video of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky fabricated to make him announce his fleeing from the country, and call out for Ukrainians to lay down their arms to Russian forces, hit global social media channels over the past two days. The video has now been taken down by social media platforms, restricting their reach to wider audiences and eliciting a response from Zelensky himself.
The deepfake has long been expected, with Ukrainian military security forces stating for quite some time that they expected Russian forces to apply informational warfare as part of their hybrid warfare tactics. This appeared to become true over the past few days, when unknown sources spread the deepfake video of Zelensky calling upon Ukraine to surrender. Compounding the issue further, Russian hackers reportedly took over Ukrainian news broadcast channels to create news flashes claiming the same – as well as spreading the video in question.
The video itself is what is known as deepfakes. The latter use advanced technologies such as machine learning to generate convincing videos that closely duplicate actual individuals – including their voices and body languages. Such videos have been steadily on the rise over the past few years, with numerous reports showcasing their use in politics – among other fields.
Such videos are typically more difficult to be detected by users, since to the naked eye, most of the sophisticated deepfakes may look just as good as real. This makes such videos a significant menace to the spread of misinformation and propaganda, which is what has been flagged in this case by major social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Posting about the video, Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, said, “Earlier today, our teams identified and removed a deepfake video claiming to show President Zelensky issuing a statement he never did. It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet. We've quickly reviewed and removed this video for violating our policy against misleading manipulated media, and notified our peers at other platforms.”
Ivy Choi, spokesperson for YouTube, also said that the Google-owned video distribution platform has blocked posting and reuploading of Zelensky’s deepfake video. According to a report by CNN, Twitter has also confirmed that the video is being “tracked” in terms of how it is being distributed. A spokesperson for the company has also reportedly said that Twitter is taking ‘enforcement action’ on the video – which likely means that the company is applying tags such as ‘manipulated media’ to designate the deepfake.
However, reports citing data from Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratories (DFRLab) state that the video is being shared at large on Russian social media platform, VKontakte. The latter is centric only to Russian audiences, and in this case, showcases how advanced technologies could be used in spreading propaganda – unless checks and balances are put in place.
For now, Zelensky has published a video of his own, through an official Ukraine channel on Twitter, stating that the other video in question is indeed fake. “We are defending our land, our children, our families. So we don't plan to lay down any arms. Until our victory,” he said.