On Wednesday, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, removed a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issuing a statement that he never made, asking Ukrainians to “lay down arms.”
The deepfake appears to have been first broadcasted on a Ukrainian news website for TV24 after an alleged hack, as first reported by Sky News on Wednesday. The video shows an edited Zelenskyy speaking behind a podium declaring that Ukraine has “decided to return Donbas” to Russia and that his nation’s war efforts had failed.
In the video, Zelenskyy’s head is comically larger than in real life and is more pixelated than his surrounding body. The fake voice is much deeper than his real voice as well.
As a matter of principle, I never post or link to fake or false content. But @MikaelThalen has helpfully whacked a label on this Zelensky one, so here goes.
I’ve seen some well-made deepfakes. This, however, has to rank among the worst of all time.pic.twitter.com/6OTjGxT28a
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) March 16, 2022
Meta’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, put out a tweet thread on Wednesday announcing that the video had been removed from the company’s platforms. “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,” Gleicher said.
Earlier this month, the Ukrainian government issued a statement warning soldiers and civilians to take pause when they encounter videos of Zelenskyy online, especially if he announces a surrender to Russian invasion. In the statement, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications said that the Russian government would likely use deepfakes to convince Ukrainians to surrender.
“Videos made through such technologies are almost impossible to distinguish from the real ones. Be aware – this is a fake! His goal is to disorient, sow panic, disbelieve citizens and incite our troops to retreat,” the statement said. “Rest assured – Ukraine will not capitulate!”
After the deepfake started to circulate across the internet, Zelenskyy posted a video to his official Instagram account debunking the video. “As for the latest childish provocation with advice to lay down arms, I only advise that the troops of the Russian Federation lay down their arms and return home,” he said. “We are at home and defending Ukraine.”
Facebook banned deepfakes and other manipulated videos from its platforms in 2020 ahead of the US presidential election. The policy includes content created by artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms that could “likely mislead” users.