A video war game at the origin of a wave of misinformation

Illustrative image showing a Ukrainian soldier firing a CAESAR cannon towards Russian lines, at an unspecified location in eastern Ukraine, on December 28, 2022 (AFP / Sameer Al-DOUMY)

Soldiers clash in burning cities, warplanes are shot down by missiles, drones pulverize tanks: these images seem larger than life, but are actually taken from war video games like “Arma 3” which feed the flood of misinformation.

Clips from this game, which are often appended with “Live” or “Breaking news” banners to make them look more authentic, have frequently been used in fake videos purporting to depict the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The ease with which they deceive the public, and sometimes even television channels, worries researchers. It’s “a reminder of how easy it is to fool people,” Claire Wardle, co-director of Brown University’s Information Futures Lab, told AFP.

“With video game visuals improving, CGI can, at first glance, look real,” she explains. “People need to know how to verify the veracity of these images, especially how to review the metadata, so that these errors are avoided, especially by the media.”

Arma 3, from the Czech studio Bohemia Interactive, allows you to generate various battle scenarios using planes, tanks and various weapons. Many players then share videos of their adventures online, which are sometimes diverted.

Under images from Arma 3 titled “Ukraine’s counter-offensive!”, a misled netizen for example commented: “We must ask Ukraine, after this war, to train the forces of the ‘NATO.’

– “The first TikTok war” –

Illustration photo composed by AFP from four YouTube videos showing images of the video game Arma 3 ( AFP / STF )

Illustration photo composed by AFP from four YouTube videos showing images of the video game Arma 3 ( AFP / STF )

“Although it is flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern conflicts so realistically, we are unhappy that it can be mistaken for real combat images and used as war propaganda,” reacted in a press release. a studio representative.

“We try to combat this content by reporting it to the platforms, but it is not at all effective. For every unpublished video, ten more are uploaded every day.”

In recent years, Arma 3 footage has also been used to falsely depict the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine, fake news regularly denounced by digital verification media.

AFP has tracked down several, including one in November claiming to show Russian tanks being hit by Javelin missiles and viewed tens of thousands of times.

According to Bohemia Interactive, these hijackings experienced a resurgence in popularity with the invasion of Ukraine, sometimes dubbed the “first TikTok war” because of the many images that illustrate it on social networks.

– “Trolls” and “naive” –

The media have also been fooled: the Romanian channel Romania TV presented an old Arma 3 video in November as showing fighting in Ukraine, and a former defense minister and a former intelligence chief both commented on the images as if they were authentic.

Already in February, another Romanian channel, Antena 3, mistakenly broadcast an old Arma 3 video and invited the Defense Ministry spokesperson to analyze it. This will be limited to general remarks on the conflict.

On social media, the reasons for sharing these fake clips vary.

“I suspect the people posting this content are just trolls wanting to see how many people they can trick,” Nick Waters of the digital forensics site Bellingcat told AFP.

Those who then share these publications are, according to him, “naive people” trying to obtain visibility or subscribers on the internet.

Given the unsophisticated nature of the disinformation based on the Arma 3 excerpts, it is unlikely to come from state actors, say the researchers.

For them, these clips are easier to verify than “deepfakes” (or “hyperfakes”), which consist of using artificial intelligence to create confusingly realistic images, which are increasingly used in the criminal world.

“If you know what to expect, these (Arma 3) videos are actually not that hard to identify as fake,” adds Nick Waters. Unfortunately, he regrets, “a lot of people don’t have the skills” to spot misinformation.

A video war game at the origin of a wave of misinformation