Ukraine: a war video game at the origin of a wave of disinformation

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, to which the “Live” or “Breaking news” banners are often added to give them a more authentic look, were frequently 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 improved video game visuals, CGI can, at first glance, look real“, she explains. “People need to know how to verify the veracity of these images, in particular how to examine the metadata, so that these errors are avoided, especially by the media”, she adds.

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

“While it’s flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern conflict so realistically, we are unhappy that it can be mistaken for actual combat footage and used as war propaganda,” a studio representative responded in a statement. “We are trying to combat this content by reporting it to the platforms, but it is not at all effective. For every video unpublished, ten more are uploaded every day,” he said.

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 hit by Javelin missiles and viewed tens of thousands of times.

According to Bohemia Interactive, these diversions experienced renewed popularity with the invasion of Ukrainesometimes nicknamed the “first TikTok war” because of the many images that illustrate it on social networks.

Media have also been fooled: Romanian channel Romania TV presented an old Arma 3 video in November as showing fighting in Ukraine, and a former defense minister as well as an ex-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 Arma 3 excerpts, unlikely to come from state actors, say 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.

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. he 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 examine the metadata, so that these errors are avoided, especially by the media,” she adds. 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’. “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 effective at all. For every unpublished video, ten more are uploaded every day,” he said. 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. Media have also been fooled : Romanian channel Romania TV presented an old Arma 3 video in November as showing fighting in Ukraine, and a former defense minister as well as an ex-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.

Ukraine: a war video game at the origin of a wave of disinformation