May 26, 2022

META has removed an edited video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky falsely ordering troops to surrender. The video corresponds to the latest troubling milestone in the information war that has accompanied Russia’s brutal invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but it was a moment when the Ukrainian government and social media appeared to be ready.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy, explained that the company removed the content for violating rules against “manipulated media,” a form of multimedia disinformation that often appears in the form of videos edited to defame a public figure. Imagine that they are saying something that they have never actually said.

According to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the misleading video was intercepted fairly quickly by Meta but appears to be circulating widely on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. DFRLab also noted that the pro-Russian station Telegram published a deepfake on Wednesday in which Zelensky called on the country to surrender.

The national TV channel Ukraine 24 also reported that the news stickers were hacked for similar purposes on Wednesday. The ticker reportedly featured a message from Zelenskiy calling on the people of Ukraine to stop resisting Russian invading forces.

The President of Ukraine stepped up the fight against propaganda by publishing his own Telegram post, filmed in the same selfie video style as Zelenskiy’s communication since the beginning of the invasion.

In early March, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications warned that Russia could use altered videos to distort public opinion about its offensive. The Center, which is part of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of the Government of Ukraine, “focuses on”[countering] External threats, especially information attacks from the Russian Federation.”

“Imagine Volodymyr Zelenskiy announcing his surrender on television,” the center wrote on its Facebook page March 2. “You see it, you hear it, it means it’s true. But it’s not true… WARNING: it’s a fake!”

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