Experts have warned for years that deepfakes could be weaponized during a war of misinformation. Acting on this advice, earlier this month the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security warned that Putin may utilize deepfakes to make it look like President Zelensky had surrendered.
"Imagine seeing Vladimir Zelensky on TV making a surrender statement. You see it, you hear it – so it’s true. But this is not the truth. This is deepfake technology. This will not be a real video, but created through machine learning algorithms," the Facebook post by the Center read.
"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 warning proved prescient, as TV channel Ukraine-24 was hacked on Wednesday, with a deepfake being broadcast. The fake video appeared to be Zelensky surrendering to Russia. The video, even to relatively untrained eyes, is clearly a bad fake.
In the video, fake Zelensky says that "it turned out to be not so easy being the president", before directing soldiers to "lay down arms and return to your families. It is not worth it dying in this war. My advice to you is to live. I am going to do the same."
Ukraine 24 – and Zelensky himself – confirmed that the video was a fake.
"The running line of the 'Ukraine 24' TV channel and the 'Today' website were hacked by enemy hackers and broadcast Zelensky's message about alleged 'capitulation' ❗️❗️❗️ THIS IS FAKE! FAKE!" the TV channel wrote. "Friends, we have repeatedly warned about this. No one is going to give up. Especially, in the circumstances when the Russian army suffers losses in battles with the Ukrainian army!"
However, the fakeness was mainly confirmed through the sense of sight and hearing. The head of the fake is differently sized than Zelensky's head, for example, and appears to be floating some way in front of the neck thanks to some poor shadow or blending work. The accent is also wrong, with some suggesting there is a Russian tint to it.
While this one may have been unconvincing, there is a danger that better fakes could fool enough people to cause problems. An expert in digital media forensics at the University of California, Hany Farid, told NPR that there would likely be more to come.
"This is the first one we've seen that really got some legs, but I suspect it's the tip of the iceberg."