Manipulative Tactics: How Russia Is Exploiting American Celebrities in the Latest Disinformation Campaign

The Kremlin has unleashed a powerful new weapon in its information war with the West — deceitful cameo videos from celebrities. The actor Elijah Wood, renowned for playing Frodo Baggins in “Lord of the Rings,” recorded a video on the app Cameo, apparently addressing Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, urging him to enter treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. This footage was repurposed as part of Russia’s efforts to slander Mr. Zelensky. The videos, featuring other celebrities such as Shavo Odadjian, Dean Norris, Priscilla Presley and Kate Flannery, have ricocheted through Russian social media and were ultimately featured by news organizations owned or controlled by the government.

Ms. Flannery, known from “The Office,” took part in the campaign, intending to build support for the war in Russia and opposition to it abroad. Microsoft’s researchers, referring to Ukraine’s capital, stated: “Russian cyber and influence operators have tried out new ways to gain battlefield advantage and sap Kyiv’s sources of domestic and external support.” Cameo stated that videos like this would violate the company’s community guidelines, promising to remove the problematic content and suspend the purchaser’s account to prevent further issues.

The novelty of exploiting commercially available cameos underlines the ingenuity of Russia’s efforts to justify its war in Ukraine through covert information operations. The group of anonymous volunteers, Antibot4navalny, attributed the campaign to a coordinated information operation called Doppelgänger, linked to numerous other efforts since 2017. Russia’s latest efforts have been bolstered by artificial intelligence, which has been warned could speed the production and dissemination of disinformation. The cameo videos first appeared on Russian social media accounts and were later amplified by Tsargrad, a media network owned by Konstantin Malofeyev, a conservative businessman under sanctions by the United States.

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