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What a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy teaches us about war information

How to spot deepfake videos
Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Posted at 11:36 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 11:36:45-04

A deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the rounds on the internet this month – showing the leader asking Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their weapons.

“We’re seeing a new era of morphing cyber tools and cyber technology and how that's being used with a kinetic war,” James Turgal, vice president at Optiv, said. He previously spent 22 years in the FBI, with a lot of time spent in cyber security.

“Deepfakes are nothing more than artificial images or sounds that are put together using either machine learning or AI algorithms,” he explained. “Deepfakes are designed to create chaos.”

The video made its way across multiple social media platforms before it was taken down.

A tweet from Meta’s Head of Security Policy wrote in part, “Earlier today, our teams identified and removed a deepfake video claiming to show President Zelenskyy issuing a statement he never did. It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet.”

Shortly after, Zelenskyy then addressed the public, setting the record straight.

“Just after the video came out, their response was quick, Zelenskyy was back on,” Turgel said.

As technology advances, making a deepfake video has become easier.

“There are now just what we call free and open-source programs out there that people can download and do this with,” Steve Beaty, a professor and the chair of computer science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said.

“What we see and what is real can be two very different things. And we’ve had this awhile for still pictures but now having it to the level of video is, I think, opens up another can of worms.”

There are some things you can look for to identify a deepfake video.

“Typically what we see is around where the face is, there are glitches,” Beaty said.

“It’s unnatural eye movement, it's the lack of blinking,” Turgal said. “Pixelation. Some blurry or misaligned stuff in the background, those are all great ways to look at that and say yeah that’s not real.”

As tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue, experts say it’s important to pay attention to what information you’re looking at, and where it’s coming from.

“Information and misinformation and disinformation has been used a lot in this war,” Beaty said.