The Ongoing Battle Against Misinformation
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a wave of AI disinformation and misinformation has flooded the digital landscape. Amid this information war, one prominent figure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has frequently found himself at the center of smear campaigns. In this article, we dissect a recent example of disinformation targeting Zelenskyy and explore the broader implications of AI in spreading deception.
AI’s Role in Accelerating Disinformation
A claim surfaced on social media, notably on X (formerly Twitter), that purported to show President Zelenskyy in a glittering golden costume, belly dancing to exotic rhythms. The video, shared across various platforms including TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram, aimed to discredit Zelenskyy and question Western support for Ukraine. However, DW Fact Check debunked this claim as fake.
The video did not feature Zelenskyy but rather Pablo Acosta, a belly dancer, teacher, and choreographer from Argentina. Acosta had originally shared the video on his Instagram account on June 1. Manipulators had superimposed Zelenskyy’s face onto Acosta’s body to create the fake version, which spread widely across social media. This disinformation resurgence coincided with Zelenskyy’s visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 20, further amplifying the false narrative.
President Zelenskyy’s background as an actor and comedian before his political career provides fodder for these attacks. He won the Ukrainian version of “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006 and has appeared in various stage performances. Another video from 2014, where Zelenskyy parodied a music video by a Ukrainian boy band, is also being shared online to portray him as enjoying crossdressing and provocative dancing. However, this video is a genuine representation of his previous work as an entertainer, unrelated to his political role.
The Growing Challenge of Detecting Deepfakes
Misinformation campaigns against Zelenskyy are increasingly resorting to deepfake technology. Deepfakes involve using artificial intelligence to manipulate videos and images convincingly. Siwei Lyu, a Professor at the University at Buffalo, emphasizes that these tactics aim to impersonate public figures or celebrities to promote agendas or sow confusion.
As AI technology advances, the quality of deepfakes is improving, making them harder to detect. This presents a concerning challenge, especially in the context of misinformation campaigns during times of crisis. Tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney have the potential to generate highly convincing deepfakes.
Furthermore, as the cost and effort required to create high-quality deepfakes decrease, these manipulated videos become cost-effective alternatives for those seeking to spread disinformation. The sheer volume of potential deepfakes makes it increasingly difficult to monitor and debunk them all.
As AI tools become more accessible and sophisticated, discerning fact from fiction becomes crucial. DW Fact Check has published a guide to help the public identify signs of deepfakes and manipulated content. Vigilance and media literacy are essential in navigating the complex landscape of misinformation.
In conclusion, the targeting of President Zelenskyy with disinformation underscores the evolving nature of information warfare in the digital age. Deepfakes, driven by AI advancements, pose a significant challenge, but awareness and critical thinking remain powerful weapons in the fight against misinformation.