Russian Propagandists' New Weapon: Cameo Videos

Celebs including Elijah Wood, Priscilla Presley appear in doctored videos, researchers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2023 9:56 AM CST
Report: Russia Propagandists Are Using Cameo Videos
Elijah Wood attends the "Cooties" and "The Last Witch Hunter" press line on day 1 of Comic-Con International on Thursday, July 9, 2015, in San Diego, Calif.   (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

While they apparently haven't gotten to George Santos yet, Russian propagandists have been using Cameo videos from other celebrities to make it appear that Volodymyr Zelensky is seeking help for substance abuse issues, Microsoft researchers say. According to Microsoft's Threat Analysis Center, "unwitting American actors" including Elijah Wood and Priscilla Presley were asked to send a message urging someone called "Vladimir" to seek help. The videos "were then modified to include emojis, links, and sometimes the logos of media outlets and circulated through social media," Microsoft said. The videos, it said, were presented as "news clips from reporting on the celebrities' supposed public appeals to Zelensky or the celebrities' own social media posts."

Microsoft said the videos, "the work of an unknown Russia-aligned influence actor," have been appearing since July and have been "amplified by Russian state-affiliated and state-run media outlets." Other celebrities seen in the videos include Mike Tyson, Kate Flannery from The Office, Scrubs star John McGinley, and Dean Norris, best known for his role in Breaking Bad. Wired reports that in one video made to look like it appeared on Instagram, Wood says, "I hope you get the help that you need. Lots of love, Vladimir, take care." In another, Flannery, whose character in The Office had a drinking problem, says, "You need to go to the rehab."

Wired notes that the Wood video "has several jarring cuts throughout and is evidently altered." A Wood representative says the request "was submitted through Cameo and was in no way intended to be addressed to Zelensky or have anything at all to do with Russia or Ukraine or the war." In a statement to CNN, a Cameo spokesperson said the company doesn't comment on "the details of its Trust & Safety investigations," but the videos in the Microsoft investigation appear to violate its community guidelines, which could lead to the company taking steps to remove the "problematic content" and suspend the purchaser's account. (More disinformation stories.)

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