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Russia is accused of creating social media accounts of fake Ukrainians

Russian trolls have been caught creating fake Facebook accounts for Ukraine-hating citizens that don’t really exist.

The social media giant said it had removed a series of profiles, including those of a fictional aeronautical engineer and guitar teacher spewing anti-Kiev propaganda.

Both were found to have faces generated by artificial intelligence.

They were allegedly created by two disinformation groups operating in Russia, as well as the Russian-dominated Donbas and Crimean regions of Ukraine.

Among the information being shared is that Ukraine is a “failed state” and that President Volodymyr Zelensky is “building a neo-Nazi dictatorship” as part of an effort by Russia to undermine confidence in the Ukrainian government.

Another fake Ukrainian female, Irina Kerimova from Kharkiv, has earrings that don't match - suggesting that the image is AI-generated and that she doesn't exist

Russia has been accused of creating fake AI-generated Facebook and Twitter accounts of Ukrainians “who hate their country.” The AI-generated photo of ‘Vladimir Bondarenko’ ‘has weird ears’ (left), while another female has fake Ukrainian earrings that don’t match (right)

The fake aerospace engineer turned blogger was named Vladimir Bondarenko from Kiev,’who really hates the Ukrainian government’ and even has a whole backstory.

He was an aeronautical engineer until he was forced to blog when Ukraine’s aviation infrastructure ‘collapsed,’ he said Ben Collins of NBC

Another female AI-created fake Ukrainian, Irina Kerimova from Kharkiv, was “a private guitar teacher” until she supposedly became editor-in-chief of a Russian propaganda website called Ukraine Today.

Sensity, a service that detects fraudulent documents, also identified the AI ​​images as deepfakes

Sensity, a service that detects fraudulent documents, also identified the AI ​​images as deepfakes

METAS STATEMENT

“In the last 48 hours, we discovered a relatively small network of about 40 accounts, Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram.

“They were served from Russia and Ukraine and targeted people in Ukraine through multiple social media platforms and through their own websites.

“We have aborted this operation, blocked their domains from sharing on our platform and shared information with other tech platforms, researchers and governments.

“When we disrupted this network on our platform, it had fewer than 4,000 Facebook accounts following one or more of its pages and fewer than 500 accounts following one or more of its Instagram accounts.

This network used fake accounts and operated fictitious personas and brands across the web — including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, Odnoklassniki and VK — to appear more authentic in an apparent attempt to resist scrutiny by platforms and researchers.

“These fictional personas used profile pictures that were likely generated using artificial intelligence techniques such as generative adversarial networks (GAN).

‘They claimed to be based in Kiev and pretended to be news editors, a former aeronautical engineer and an author of a scientific publication on hydrography – the science of mapping water.

“This operation ran a handful of websites masquerading as independent news outlets and publishing claims about the West betraying Ukraine and Ukraine as a failed state.

“Our investigation is ongoing and so far we have found links between this network and another operation that we deleted in April 2020 and which we subsequently linked to individuals in Russia, the Donbass region of Ukraine and two media organizations on Crimea – NewsFront and SouthFront, now sanctioned by the US government.

“In recent days, we have been targeting more people in Ukraine, including Ukrainian military personnel and public figures, by Ghostwriter, a threat actor who has been followed by the security community for some time.”

Collins pointed out some flaws in the AI-generated photos of the fake Ukrainians, believed to be from ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com, an online tool that generates random fake faces.

For example, the photo of Vladimir Bondarenko has ‘weird ears’, while Irina Kerimova is shown with mismatched earrings.

Sensity, a service that detects fraudulent documents, also identified the AI ​​images as deepfakes.

These fake people were present on various platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, Odnoklassniki and VK.

Facebook owner Meta said it had discovered a relatively small network of about 40 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram targeting Ukraine with these fake profiles.

The company said: “We have aborted this operation, blocked their domains from sharing on our platform and shared information with other tech platforms, researchers and governments.

“These fictional personas used profile pictures that were likely generated using artificial intelligence techniques such as generative adversarial networks (GAN).

“They claimed to be based in Kiev and pretended to be news editors, a former aeronautical engineer and an author of a scientific paper on hydrography – the science of mapping water.

“This operation ran a handful of websites masquerading as independent news outlets and publishing claims about the West betraying Ukraine and that Ukraine is a failed state.”

Twitter said it also banned more than a dozen accounts sharing links to Ukraine Today.

The AI-generated profiles are actually just one of two anti-Ukraine disinformation campaigns Meta has tackled.

While the AI-generated profiles are linked to Russia, the other operation has connections to a Belarus hacking group with ties to the Belarusian government called Ghostwriter. Belarus has assisted in the attack on Ukraine, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, including by allowing Russian forces to conduct weeks of military exercises on its territory.

This second Belarusian operation hacked into accounts of real Ukrainian journalists, officials and other figures “and posted a video of Ukrainians waving a white flag of surrender,” Collins said.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy, said, “Ghostwriter usually starts by compromising their targets’ email and then uses that to take over their other accounts.

“That’s why it’s so important to enable two-factor authentication and use a password manager to prevent passwords from being reused on the web.”

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, has removed anti-Ukrainian operations from their sites (file photo)

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, has removed anti-Ukrainian operations from their sites (file photo)

Russia's ongoing attack on Ukraine is led by Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured)

Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine is led by Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured)

According to Gleicher, the larger of the two disinformation groups — the first to use fake AI profiles — was operating in Russia, as well as in the Russian-dominated Donbas and Crimean regions of Ukraine.

Gleicher told NBC that the propaganda campaign was able to “spread stories on the internet that Ukraine is not doing well” by “pretending to be journalists in Kiev.”

“The good news is that neither campaign has been as effective, but we see these actors trying to target Ukraine right now,” Gleicher said.

“These actors are trying to undermine trust in the Ukrainian government, suggest that it is a failed state, suggest that the war in Ukraine is going very badly or try to praise Russia.”

UKRAINE WAR: THE LATEST

  • Russian paratroopers land amid fierce fighting in Ukraine’s second city
  • “There are practically no more areas in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet struck”: Interior Ministry official
  • Joe Biden calls Vladimir Putin a ‘dictator’ in his annual State of the Union address as he bans Russian planes from US airspace
  • Russia ramps up its bombing and missile strikes hitting Kiev’s main television tower, two residential buildings in a city west of the city and the city of Bila Tserkva south of the capital
  • Russian troops enter the besieged city of Kherson on the Black Sea to the south
  • Russian attacks leave Mariupol, another Black Sea port further west without electricity
  • More than 677,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russian invasion, UN refugee agency says
  • UN International Court of Justice says it will hold public hearings on March 7-8 on Ukraine’s allegations of ‘genocide’ by Russia
  • Russia blocks independent television channel and liberal radio station, exacerbating virtual media blackout
  • A slew of Western companies announce they are freezing or scaling back business with Russia
  • Russians rush to withdraw money after capital controls are introduced and as ruble hits record lows
  • Russia-owned Nord Stream 2 goes bankrupt after Germany stops pipeline after Moscow invasion
  • Oil price rises above $110 a barrel despite agreements to release 60 million barrels from inventories
  • World Bank drafts $3 billion aid package for Ukraine, including $350 million in immediate funds

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