Fake news in the Ukraine war: misattributed quotes are floating around the internet

New tactics for fake news
Disinformation campaign foists false Ukraine quotes on celebrities

“Fake news” is circulating everywhere on the internet

© Marijan Murat / DPA

Did Till Lindemann really criticize German aid to Ukraine? And is Til Schweiger’s claim that Ukrainian officials are buying French and Italian real estate true? Almost certainly these are fake quotes.

Small photo tiles featuring celebrities and their quotes are popular on social media. However, the case of a current disinformation campaign shows that sometimes skepticism is appropriate. So there is in connection with Russia’s war against the Ukraine has had such a sharepic online for some time now with the head of Til Schweiger and the alleged statement that Ukrainian officials were buying real estate in France and Italy – and there was no need to know anything more about the war. Or one with a picture of his fellow actor Jannis Niewöhner and the line that the USA would not be hurt, but Europe would. Rammstein singer Till Lindemann was told something about supposedly “senseless help for Ukraine”.

These are not real quotes. Spokespeople for Lindemann and Niewöhner confirmed to the German Press Agency (DPA) that the celebrities had never made such statements. A spokeswoman for Til Schweiger did not want to comment on the authenticity. The quotes cannot be found in other media or in the DPA archive. There is also no reference to a source on the sharepics.

Who is behind the fake news campaign?

The Federal Ministry of the Interior attributes the fake quotes to the Russian “doppelganger” campaign uncovered in 2022. The ministry is aware that the campaign “remains active and has not only used the original eponymous tactic of imitating websites of existing quality media and public institutions for a long time,” said a spokesman for the DPA.

The new tactic also included fake quotes that were “put into the mouths of prominent figures in the entertainment industry,” the spokesman said. This technique has been used by the “Doppelgänger” campaign since November 2023. The ministry is monitoring developments and is communicating with platforms and international partners.

An analysis by the civil organization Reset.Tech, which deals with digital threats to democracy, also attributed the fake quotes to the Russian “Doppelgänger” campaign, as the US magazine “Wired” reported at the end of last year. Reset.Tech told DPA that this became apparent because the networks followed similar patterns and used similar names.

The “Doppelgänger” campaign, also known as “RRN” (Recent Reliable News), was uncovered in 2022. In several EU countries, it spread fake websites pretending to be national media or government websites. The EU identified Russian actors as responsible for the disinformation network. At the end of July 2023, it added five organizations linked to the Russian state and seven people to the sanctions list.

Social networks are cautious

The fake Ukraine statements with the heads of celebrities were apparently deliberately circulated until at least April of this year. They can be found in Facebook’s ad library, where paid posts are documented. The Sharepics were offered to targeted users in Germany in exchange for money. In many cases, the ads have already been deleted because they are said to have violated the advertising rules of the Facebook group Meta. Nevertheless, the ad with the quote incorrectly attributed to Til Schweiger reached more than 190,000 users, as the ad library shows.

Facebook pages with random-sounding names like “New Programming KTV” were responsible for the ads. Most of the time the pages are no longer active. Who is actually behind it is unknown.

Facebook parent company Meta did not comment in detail about the advertisements or those responsible for the disinformation network. Meta referred to his previous reports on the crackdown on the “Doppelgänger” campaign. “Our teams continue to work on monitoring changes on this network as a top priority,” said a Meta spokeswoman. In its threat report in August 2023, Meta called the campaign the “largest and most aggressive ongoing influence operation of Russian origin” that the company has taken action against since 2017.

The EU is currently also concerned about whether Meta adequately combats the spread of misleading advertising and disinformation campaigns. At the end of April, the European Commission opened proceedings against the Facebook and Instagram group on suspicion of violations of EU law. The Commission in Brussels announced that, among other things, it would be examined whether Meta had not adhered to European rules when dealing with political advertising.

Even if photo tiles with funny or controversial statements can be shared online with just a few clicks, users on social media should pay attention to whether it is stated where the statements were made. “Quotes do give the impression of authenticity. But here too, if the person does not express themselves in this sense on other channels, doubts are justified,” recommends the “Germany Safe on the Internet” alliance.

Veronika Völlinger / cl

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