Uncovering Russia’s Newest Disinformation Strategy: Exploiting American Celebrities

The Kremlin has unleashed a new weapon in its information war with the West: the fake celebrity cameo. According to a report released by Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center, videos of actors like Elijah Wood, Shavo Odadjian, John McGinley, Dean Norris, Priscilla Presley, and Kate Flannery, as well as heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, were repurposed and falsely used to denigrate Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The videos made their way through Russian social media and were ultimately featured by news organizations owned or controlled by the government.

The celebrities used in the videos did not respond to requests for comment, but a representative for Mr. Wood clarified that the message was “in no way intended to be addressed to Zelensky or have anything at all to do with Russia or Ukraine or the war.”

Russia’s efforts to justify its war in Ukraine have included a campaign using posts of global celebrities to echo key Kremlin propaganda messages on social media platforms like Facebook and X. A group of anonymous volunteers attributed the campaign to a coordinated information operation called Doppelgänger, which has been linked to other efforts to spread disinformation.

Russia’s latest efforts have been bolstered by artificial intelligence, which experts warn could speed the production and dissemination of disinformation. The use of A.I. chatbots to criticize Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny and his organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, was also reported.

The cameo videos were first recorded and appeared on social media accounts in Russia, including Telegram and VKontakte, and were then amplified by media networks owned by conservative businessman Konstantin Malofeyev. Articles about the videos later appeared in prominent Russian news organizations, including the state news wire, RIA Novosti, and the official government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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