Arma 3 video game war footage used to spread waves of disinformation about the conflict in Ukraine

Arma 3 video game war footage used to spread waves of disinformation about the conflict in Ukraine

The troops fight in the burning streets. Missiles shoot down fighter planes. Drones spray tanks. The dramatic visuals have the trappings of actual combat, but they’re video game clips fueling misinformation.

Images from the war-themed video game Arma 3, often marked “live” or “breaking news” to make them appear authentic, have been used repeatedly in recent months in fake videos about the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

The frequency and ease with which game footage is mistaken for reality, even by some media outlets, and shared as genuine news on social media, highlights what researchers call its serious potential for spreading misinformation.

“The fact that this continues to happen reminds us how easy it is to fool people,” Claire Wardle, co-director of Brown University’s Information Futures Lab, told AFP.

“As video game visuals become increasingly sophisticated, CGIs (computer-generated images) can, at a glance, look real. People need to know how to verify images, including by reviewing metadata so that these mistakes are not made, especially by newsrooms.”

Arma 3, whose Czech-based developers promise “a real fighting game in a huge military sandbox”, allows players to create various battlefield scenarios using planes, tanks and weapons. a host of weapons.

Gamers often upload hours of gameplay footage to platforms such as YouTube and researchers blame its easy availability for its misuse.

In the comments to an Arma 3 video titled “The Ukraine Counteroffensive!” – which simulated a missile strike on a column of tanks – one user, who apparently took it for real, wrote: “We must ask Ukraine after this war to train NATO forces to beat.”

First TikTok war

“While it’s flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern warfare conflicts so realistically, we’re certainly not thrilled that it could be mistaken for actual combat footage and used as war propaganda,” said a representative for Bohemia Interactive, the game’s creator, said in a statement.

“We have tried to combat this content by reporting these videos to the platform providers, but it is very ineffective. With every video taken down, ten more are uploaded every day.”

In recent years, Arma 3 videos have been used in false depictions of other conflicts, including Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine, with the clips often debunked by global fact checkers.

This includes AFP, which has debunked several videos using Arma 3 content, including one in November that also claimed to show Russian tanks being hit by US-made Javelin missiles. The clip has been viewed tens of thousands of times on social media.

Bohemia Interactive said misleading videos have recently “gained ground” regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

Dubbed by observers the ‘first TikTok war’, it’s a conflict like no other as a steady stream of frontline visuals – some of them misleading or fake – pour onto social media platforms .

Given the unsophisticated nature of the Arma 3 disinformation, the researchers say it is unlikely to be the work of state actors.

“I suspect the people posting this content are just trolls doing it to see how many people they can fool,” Nick Waters of digital forensics firm Bellingcat told AFP.

“Secondary broadcasters will be gullible people who scavenge this content and broadcast it for the purpose of gaining bogus internet points.”

Bohemia Interactive said the fake videos were “massively shared” by social media users, many of whom seek out what researchers call engagement bait – catchy posts that generate more interaction through likes, likes, shares and comments.

different from reality

Arma 3 videos, which its creator has acknowledged are “fully capable of spreading fake news,” have also been shared by various mainstream media outlets and government institutions around the world, Bohemia Interactive said.

During a live broadcast in November, Romanian television misrepresented an old Arma 3 video as battle footage from Ukraine, and a former Romanian defense minister and a former intelligence chief presented their analyzes images as if they were real.

This happened after another Romanian news channel, Antena 3, made the same mistake in February – among the experts invited by the broadcaster to analyze its video taken from Arma 3 was the spokesperson for the Romanian Ministry of Defence.

Bohemia Interactive urged users to use gameplay footage responsibly, refrain from using clickbait video titles, and clearly indicate that they are derived from a video game.

The researchers say their videos are relatively easier to debunk than “deepfakes” – fabricated images, audio and video created using technology that experts say is frighteningly sophisticated and gaining traction. terrain in the criminal world.

“If you know what you’re looking for, these (Arma 3) videos aren’t really hard to identify as fakes,” Waters said.

“As beautiful as Arma 3 looks, it’s still very different from the real thing.”

The fact that many are unable to do so points to another harsh reality in the age of misinformation.

“It shows that some people lack the skills to navigate today’s computing environment,” Waters said.

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