Meta takes down deepfake of Ukraine’s President Zelensky surrendering

Meta removed an altered video falsely depicting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordering troops to surrender Wednesday. The video is the latest alarming milestone in the parallel information war accompanying Russia’s brutal invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but it was a moment that Ukraine’s government and social media companies appear to have been prepared for.

Meta Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher explained that the company removed the content for breaking its rules against “manipulated media,” a form of multimedia misinformation that often manifests as video edited to depict a public figure saying something that they never actually said.

The misleading video was intercepted by Meta fairly quickly, but is apparently circulating widely on Facebook’s Russian counterpart VKontakte, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. DFRLab also observed that a pro-Russia Telegram channel published a deepfake Wednesday depicting Zelensky calling on the country to surrender.

National TV network Ukraine 24 also reported that its news ticker was hacked on Wednesday to similar ends. The ticker showed a message purportedly from Zelensky calling on the people of Ukraine to end their resistance against Russian invading forces.

Ukraine’s president was quick to counteract the disinformation with his own messaging on Telegram, shot in the same selfie video style that’s characterized Zelensky’s communications since the beginning of the invasion.

In early March, Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communications cautioned that Russia might deploy altered videos to distort public perception of its invasion. The center, part of the Ukrainian government’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, focuses on “[countering] external threats, in particular information attacks of the Russian Federation.”

“Imagine seeing Vladimir Zelensky on TV making a surrender statement,” the center wrote on its Facebook page on March 2. “You see it, you hear it – so it’s true. But this is not the truth… Be aware – this is a fake!”