Fake news and fake videos are being used to undermine the Paris Olympics

Russia’s fury at the Games, and the host city of Paris, has been fueled by the fact that its athletes are barred from competing under its flag in the Summer Olympics.

Microsoft released a report on Sunday that revealed Russian propagandists had created an hour-long documentary, faked news reports, and even imitated French and US intelligence agencies in order to issue false warnings, urging people to stay away from the Games.

The report outlines the disinformation campaign launched by the group Storm-1679. The campaign seems to have intensified since March. Short videos are flooding social media, raising alarms over possible terrorist attacks.

While the operation is aimed at the Games it uses various techniques to disseminate misinformation. These could be used in European and US election campaigns.

US and French officials tracked the campaign. US officials have tracked the campaign.

The group also attempted to provoke fact-checkers to examine its claims in an attempt to use this attention to spread disinformation as it was called out.

Since months, French officials focused on ways Russia might try to undermine the Games. Hackers with Russian intelligence interfered with the opening ceremony of South Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympics. French officials are now preparing themselves for cyberattacks in 2019.

France increased its level of terrorism alert after threats were made against soccer matches with high profile in Paris and a terrorist incident in Moscow. France has also increased security at the Olympics. The French and US governments are not warning people to avoid the Games. However, the Russian disinformation campaign aims to scare them into staying away.

Researchers from Microsoft and US officials have identified several groups that are affiliated with the Kremlin and spread disinformation against Europe and the United States.

Some are directed directly by Vladimir Putin’s aides. Some are linked to Russian intelligence. Some hide behind phony nonprofit groups. Some are former employees of the Internet Research Agency (a St. Petersburg-based troll farm) that was responsible for spreading election propaganda in 2016 Yevgeny Prgozhin was the head of this agency, a founder of a mercenary organization that led a revolt against the Kremlin before being killed in a plane accident last year.

Microsoft claims that Storm-1679 is not part of these efforts. Microsoft says that the group’s disinformation aligns with Kremlin propagandists, but little is known about them.

Bellingcat is a research organization that has used publicly available data for open source investigations. It has also been the target of disinformation videos. Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat. His group says it hasn’t established whether Storm-1679 was backed by Russian government or independent.

Higgins stated that “we just don’t really know what it is at this stage.”

The work began in earnest last summer with the release of a fake documentary about the International Olympic Committee, expropriating Netflix’s logo and using an artificial-intelligence-powered voice impersonating Tom Cruise. The video, a parody of the 2013 movie Olympus Has Fallen, was removed from YouTube by the committee. The committee stated in March that the attacks continued with persistent attempts to discredit the leadership. They cited a campaign which used fake recordings purporting to be phone calls made by African Union officials on behalf of Russia.

Storm-1679 appears to now be creating shorter videos, which are easier to produce. The group used to be focused on disparaging Ukrainians in the West. However, after French President Emmanuel Macron publicly considered sending French troops into Ukraine, they shifted their focus to the Olympics.

Microsoft estimates Storm-1679 creates three to eight faked video clips a week in English and French. Many of these videos impersonate the BBC, Al Jazeera, and other broadcasters. The group seems to react quickly to breaking news, like protests in New Caledonia (a French territory located in the Pacific). Some focus on the possibility of a terrorist act in Paris.

The majority of videos claiming to be French or CIA intelligence are simple. The videos are not anything that the CIA would produce, but they may look legitimate to readers on the internet, as they use the agency’s logo, and white-on black typography.

Clint Watts of Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center said that the group behind these fake posts was trying to create an expectation of violence. They want people to fear going to the Olympics.

A CIA spokesperson has said that a video circulated on the internet in February, purporting to warn of terrorist attacks at the Games. The video was a fabrication.

Viginum in France, the government agency that fights online disinformation, identified in February the fake CIA videos as part of a Matryoshka campaign, named after Russian nesting dolls.

Fake videos were also created about the French government and the French intelligence agency. Unnamed person who was briefed about the French investigation said, under condition of anonymity, that Viginum, the French Foreign Ministry, and other agencies were able to quickly identify the Russian disinformation aimed at undermining Olympics.

Microsoft and French officials say that one of the tactics of the group appears to be to try to attract the attention of fact checking organisations.

Watts explained that Storm-1679’s content is usually circulated on Telegram for a few days and then disappears. The content does not normally move from one platform into another. However, when the false content of Storm-1679 is fact-checked and shared by large accounts, it gets more views and is seen by new audiences.

Higgins stated that if the group was using fact-checkers to bait them, this strategy did not seem effective. He said Bellingcat is aware of the fact that disinformation reporting can bring attention to propaganda. This is taken into account when their organisation fact-checks video.

Higgins stated that it does not appear as though their messages are being amplified. Even among the usual circles that eat up Russian disinformation we do not see it being shared.

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