A video war game at the start of a wave of misinformation
Soldiers clash in burning cities, warplanes are hit by missiles, drones dust tanks: these images seem larger than life, but in fact they are taken from war video games like Arma 3, which feed the flood of disinformation.
Clips from this game, often accompanied by “Live” or “Breaking News” banners to appear more authentic, are often used in fake videos depicting Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The fact that they easily fool the public, sometimes even television channels, worries researchers. It’s “a reminder of how easy it is to fool people,” Claire Wardle, director of Brown University’s Information Futures Lab, told AFP.
“With improvements to video game visuals, CGI can look realistic at first glance,” he explains. “People need to know how to verify the authenticity of these images, especially how to review the metadata, so that these errors can be avoided, especially by the media.”
Arma 3 from the Czech studio Bohemia Interactive allows you to create different combat scenarios using planes, tanks and various weapons. Many players then share videos of their adventures online, sometimes directed elsewhere.
“Counterattack of Ukraine!” from Arma 3 For example, one deluded internet user commented under his caption: “We should ask Ukraine to train NATO forces after this war.
– “The First TikTok War” –
“While we are flattered that Arma 3 is such a realistic simulation of modern conflicts, we are saddened that it is being mistaken for real combat images and used as war propaganda,” a studio representative said.
“We try to fight back by reporting this content to platforms, but it’s not effective at all. For every unpublished video, ten more videos are uploaded every day.”
In recent years, Arma 3 footage has also been used to falsely portray the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine, with fake news regularly denounced by the digital verification media.
AFP followed up on several, including one in November that it claimed showed Russian tanks being hit by Javelin missiles and was viewed tens of thousands of times.
According to Bohemia Interactive, these abductions gained popularity again with the invasion of Ukraine and have sometimes been called “the first TikTok war” because of the many pictures showing it on social networks.
– “Trolls” and “naive” –
The media has also been duped: Romania’s Romania TV channel released old Arma 3 footage of the fighting in Ukraine in November, and a former defense minister and a former intelligence chief interpreted 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 spokesman of the Ministry of Defense to analyze it. This will be limited to general notes on the conflict.
There are various reasons for sharing these fake clips on social networks.
Nick Waters of digital research website Bellingcat told AFP: “I suspect the people posting this content are just + troll + wanting to see how many people they can trap.”
Those who then share these publications, in his opinion, are “naive people” who are trying to gain visibility or subscribers on the Internet.
Given the unsophisticated nature of the disinformation based on Arma 3 extracts, it is unlikely to come from state actors, the researchers say.
It’s easier for them to verify these clips than “deepfakes” (or “hyperfakes”), which use artificial intelligence to create confusingly realistic images that are increasingly used in the criminal world.
“If you know what to expect, it’s actually not that hard to identify these (Arma 3) videos as fake,” adds Nick Waters. Unfortunately, he laments, “a lot of people don’t have the skills” to spot misinformation.