Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, video game Arma 3 imagery has unintentionally fueled disinformation about the conflict. So much so that TV stations are broadcasting these misleading videos.
Soldiers clash in burning cities, fighter jets are shot down by missiles, drones pulverize tanks: these images appear larger than life but are actually from war video games like Arma 3, which feed the tide of misinformation.
Clips from this game, often featuring “Live” or “Breaking News” banners to make them look more authentic, were frequently used in fake videos purporting to depict the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Images that may appear real
The ease with which they fool the public, and sometimes even TV stations, 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.
“Improved video game graphics can make CGI look real at first glance,” she explains.
“People need to know how to verify the accuracy of these images, particularly how to examine the metadata, so that these errors are avoided, especially by the media,” adds Claire Wardle
Arma 3 from the Czech studio Bohemia Interactive allows you to create various combat scenarios using planes, tanks and various weapons. Many players then share videos of their adventures online, which sometimes get redirected.
For example, under images of Arma 3 titled “Ukraine’s counter-offensive!”, a misled netizen commented: “After this war, we must ask Ukraine to train ‘NATO’ forces.
Methods to Identify Fake Videos
“While it is flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern conflict so realistically, we are unhappy that it can be confused with real combat imagery and used as war propaganda,” a studio representative responded in a press release. He even shares methods to identify fake videos from his video game.
“We try to combat this content by reporting it to the platforms, but it’s not effective at all. For every unreleased video, ten more are uploaded every day.”
In recent years, Arma 3 footage has also been used to misrepresent the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine, fake news regularly denounced by digital verification media. AFP has tracked several, including one in November that claimed to show Russian tanks being hit by Javelin missiles and was viewed tens of thousands of times.
According to Bohemia Interactive, these kidnappings 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.
Error broadcasts on TV
The media was also duped: Romanian broadcaster Romania TV in November presented an old Arma 3 video showing fighting in Ukraine, and a former defense minister and a former intelligence chief both commented on the images as if they were real.
Back in February, another Romanian channel, Antena 3, mistakenly aired an old Arma 3 video and invited the Defense Ministry spokesman to analyze it. This is limited to general comments on the conflict.
On social media, the reasons for sharing these fake clips vary.
“I suspect the people posting this content are just ‘trolls’ trying to see how many people they can trick,” Nick Waters of digital forensic site Bellingcat told AFP.
Easier to verify than “deepfakes”
According to him, those who then share these publications are “naïve people” trying to gain visibility or subscribers on the Internet.
Given the immaturity of the disinformation based on the Arma 3 excerpts, it’s unlikely to have come from state actors, the researchers say.
For them, these clips are easier to verify than “deepfakes” (or “hyperfakes”), which consist of using artificial intelligence to create bewilderingly realistic images that are increasingly used in the criminal world.
“Actually, if you know what to expect, these (Arma 3) videos aren’t that hard to identify as fake,” adds Nick Waters. Unfortunately, he laments, “many people don’t have the skills” to spot misinformation.