“There is no need to die in this war. I advise you to live.”

So said a solemn Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, apparently telling his troops to surrender. Except that it wasn’t Zelenskiy at all. It was a deepfake video that went viral in March 2022.

As deepfake technology advances, Russian disinformation is infiltrating Telegram groups and parroting pro-Kremlin narratives, with dangerous implications for European democracies, this investigation reveals.

Against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, deepfakes have evolved into a political weapon, laying the groundwork for even greater disinformation in future conflicts. Already, propagandists and conspiracy theorists are manipulating pixels to blur the lines between fact and fiction, reality and lies.

This investigation focuses on the digital landscapes of Spain and Italy, where experts say disinformation cases are doubling even as resources to monitor the phenomenon are diminishing. Inadequately trained artificial intelligence systems and a dearth of funds for fact-checking allow the rapid spread of false content to specific audience profiles.

Despite the European Digital Services Act and the initial approval of the AI Act by the European Parliament, “AI has made disinformation a trend, facilitating the creation of false content,” notes Erika Mangonara of the European Agency for Cyber Security. “The real target is civil society, contaminating the information environment.”

This investigation by freelancers Vittoria Torsello, Cristina Girones and Giovana Faria exposes manipulation tactics that threaten our information ecosystem in times of conflict.

By spotlighting the European front of the Russian disinformation campaign and dissecting the mechanics of deepfake creation and dissemination, the investigation raises awareness about the urgent need for effective countermeasures.


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