Deepfakes Bring Psychological Warfare to the Ukraine (Pt. 1)

Amid the first weeks of Russia’s war in the Ukraine a video of Volodymyr Zelensky surfaced online. He wore a dark green shirt, spoke with purpose and was standing behind a white presidential podium adorned with the Ukraine coat of arms. His body held nearly still while his head and face were quite animated while he spoke.

Part of the speech in the video was as follows. “I ask you to lay down your weapons and go back to your families. This war is not worth dying for. I suggest you to keep on living, and I am going to do the same.”

The video was quickly identified as a “deepfake” – a realistic computer generated video.

Just five years ago deepfakes were not part of the common consciousness. The false but persuasive video and/or audio files are generated with the help of artificial intelligence. Worryingly and unsurprisingly they are now being employed to try to impact the outcome of a war. And it wasn’t just the Zelensky video, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin also went viral. In the video the faux-Putin was declaring peace with the Ukraine.

Experts in propaganda, disinformation and authentication have long worried that deepfakes would be used to sew lies and chaos throughout society. As deepfakes become more realistic the potential for influence and damage increases exponentially.