‘Deepfake’ that supposedly fooled European politicians was just a look-alike, say pranksters

Last week, numerous news outlets reported that a series of European politicians were tricked by elaborate Russian conspiracy. Legislators from Britain, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all arranged video calls with a scammer claiming to be Chief of Staff Leonid Volkov to imprison Russian anti-Putin politician Alexey Navalni. As politicians say, they have become victims of digital fakes. Dopplegangers using the “deep fake” technique were created specifically to deceive them. This is the latest example of a misinformation campaign in the Russian West.

However, Russian men who coordinated the currency say the claim of “deep fakes” is itself misleading. speaking The Verge, Scammers say their imitation Volkov was created using a more subtle effect and artistically obscure camera angle than makeup.

Vladimir Kuznetsov said in a recent video call: “Meet Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov.” The Verge, Introduces his colleague and criminal partner Alexei Stolyarov. He is someone who really resembles Leonid Volkov.

The two say they were tricked by various meetings with European politicians and even live interviews on Latvian TV. They used Volkov’s real photo as a digital avatar, cold-calling and emailing the subject to a fake address. As evidence, the pair The Verge. They also uploaded a meeting between “Volkov” and Ukrainian politicians to YouTube and said more videos will be coming.

“I didn’t have to do much preparation to look like a real Volkov,” Stolyarov says. “There were some brushes and colors, but that was enough.”

Image showing Alexei Stolyarov (also known as Lexus) in the costume of Russian opposition leader Leonid Volkov.
Image: Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov are better known as Vovan and Lexus. It is a self-proclaimed “playful” pair with a history of cheating Western politicians and celebrities. Over the years, the two have made phone calls like Justin Trudeau, Elton John, Bernie Sanders, Lindsay Graham, and Boris Johnson, each time aiming to drive out the shame and harass potentially embarrassing remarks. them.

The pair denied official relations with the Kremlin, but there is no doubt that their work is useful and supported by the Russian government. In the past, they sent their shows on Russian state TV, and their pranks were approved by state news. They clearly know which side the bread is buttered. As Stolyarov said tutelar A few years ago: “We are not going to play with Putin. We don’t want to hurt our country. We don’t want anxiety here. We don’t want to do anything to help the Russian enemy.”

However, it is natural to cause anxiety elsewhere. Stolyarov says, “Our job is to play with senior officials and celebrities and make a lot of fun and post them on social media.

Screenshot showing Stolyarov disguised as Volkov (top left), conversations with Ukrainian officials, including Sviatoslav Yurash, the youngest MP in Ukraine (top right).
Image: YouTube

The two say that they decided to pretend to be Volkov for a number of reasons. First, because of Navalny’s news value. Navalny, who led the most substantial opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a few years, was imprisoned. He has ended the hunger strike of the last 24 days and continues to criticize the Russian government despite the expectation that his national political movement will soon become outlawed. Secondly, due to the similarity of Stolyarov. Third, since the real Volkov didn’t find many meetings with Western politicians, it means that few people are familiar with his looks and sounds. The unspoken fourth motive is to mock the anti-Putin forces according to the duo’s politics.

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov have played numerous pranks over the years, although not everyone caught the attention of the media (you can search the YouTube channel for your choice). What made this particular campaign stand out is its connection to deep fakes. Media generated or manipulated by AI will be used as a tool for many fears political misinformation.

Over the years, experts have warned of the so-called “info for calypse”, which, due to the quality and availability of deepfakes, makes the public indistinguishable between truth and fiction. So far, this terrifying prediction has not been made. The most damaging effect of deep fakes was the creation of unconsensual pornography. In fact, politics has become persistent in recent years due to fraud and misinformation, but these events almost always revolve around videos and images edited in the old fashioned way. Nevertheless, the ghost of Deep Fake still haunts politics, as this recent event shows.

It’s not clear when the fake Volkov phone was first blamed for AI technology, but Volkov himself may be the source. Latvian politician Rihards Kols posted on Facebook on April 22 that he tricked him into making calls with an unknown prankster in March, and shared two photos showing real and fake Volkov. Then, on the same day, Volkov joking around with Vovan and Lexus, reposting the image, suggesting that AI was used. “It looks like my real face, but how did I put it on the Zoom call?” He wrote according to the Facebook translation. “Welcome to the era of deep fakes.”

A screenshot showing a Facebook post shared by Leonid Volkov on April 22nd, suggesting that her real photo is a deep fake.
Image: Leonid Volkov via Facebook

Lines seem to spread from here. The next day, Coles, chairman of the Latvian Foreign Relations Committee, Twitter’s Statement It was co-signed by his colleagues from Lithuania and Estonia. The trio warned of the threat posed by “deep fake technology” and said the prank was “a targeted attack on Kremlin critics.”

“Over the past few months, false information operations using manipulated and artificial intelligence (AI) generated media have been conducted against Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and British politicians, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the media.” . “As a real democracy representative should always be, we encourage everyone to be vigilant and open to communication!”

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov say they were amazed that the prank was portrayed as a deep fake, because the images they used in their accounts and the images that Volkov himself identified as fake were taken from real videos. Before Kuznetsov adds that Volkov “did not like the picture because he looked too fat,” Stolyarov says “it was his real picture, but he denied that he was him.”

It’s not clear whether politicians blamed deepfakes for the real chaos trickery or for more selfish reasons. It’s not embarrassing to be fooled by AI fakes that are more sophisticated than two naughty guys with convincing email methods. However, this incident shows that the fear of deep fakes is affecting misinformation as much as the technology itself. Blaming new skills on those who Kuznetsov and Stolyarov (aka Vovan and Lexus) cheated on could simply be a matter of saving face.


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