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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman April 18, 2023

That’s not Vladimir Putin discussing US democracy; it’s a deepfake

If Your Time is short

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t say this. The video is a deepfake.

  • The artificial intelligence-generated clip was created for a 2020 ad campaign by a voting-rights organization. 

 

A video circulating on social media supposedly shows Russian President Vladimir Putin saying in English that he doesn’t need to interfere with U.S. democracy because it’s already fractured. 

"America. You blame me for interfering with your democracy but I don’t have to. You are doing it to yourselves," says the voice attributed to Putin in the clip. "Polling stations are closing. You don’t know who to trust. You are divided. There are strings we can pull. But we don’t have to. You are pulling them for us." 

The clip was shared April 16 on Instagram and shows a split screen with a man watching and the text "Listen here!" appearing at the top. The video features what appears to be Putin speaking in an eastern European accent and standing at a lectern featuring the Russian coat of arms. 

@politifact Replying to @letseewhatthisis Did Russian President Vladimir Putin give a speech in English saying America is interfering with its own democracy? No, that video is a deepfake. #deepfake #putin #russia #america #democracy #ai #factcheck #FYP #LearnOnTikTok ♬ Lazy Sunday - Official Sound Studio

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

But this isn’t a genuine video of the Russian president. It’s a deepfake —  a form of artificial intelligence that manipulates people’s likenesses and makes it look as if they are doing or saying something that they didn’t. The technology behind deepfakes, and other manipulated imagery, is starting to advance faster than the tools used to identify the tricks. 

Putin releasing a public address in English aimed at the American people would be worldwide news. We couldn’t find any news reports about it.

But we did find where the clip originated.

The video was created in September 2020 as part of an advertisement campaign by an organization called "RepresentUs," which describes itself as a nonpartisan, anti-corruption organization "fighting to fix broken and ineffective government." 

The campaign, called "Save the Vote," included the fake video of Putin and another artificial intelligence-generated clip of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that makes similar statements about division in the U.S.

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In a Sept. 29, 2020, press release, the organization said it was launching the "first ever use of deepfake technology in a major ad campaign" to illustrate that "democracy will collapse" unless Americans take "immediate action to fix political corruption, voter suppression gerrymandering, and our broken election systems."

The two dictator videos were set to air following the first presidential debate between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. But the videos were "so bold" that the clips were "pulled at the last minute" by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, RepresentUs said.  

Instead, the organization posted the Putin deepfake on its YouTube channel that day. At the end of the clip, text on the screen says: "This footage is not real, but the threat is. Join us."

But that context is missing in the version shared on Instagram.

On Oct. 2, 2020, Fortune published a story about the dictator deepfakes going viral. The article detailed how RepresentUs asked New York-based advertising agency, Mischief USA, to create the campaign. 

Kevin Mulroy, the agency’s executive creative director, told Fortune that his team was trying to find a way to grab people’s attention and make them care about the prospect of democracy falling apart. 

"That’s when we started thinking about deepfakes," Mulroy says. "The point of the deepfake is to get this message through in such a noisy area."

On April 18, RepresentUs CEO Joshua Graham told PolitiFact, "As we make clear in our video, it’s fake – and that’s exactly the point. By featuring two authoritarians who want to see our country fail, our goal was to wake Americans up to the fact that our democracy faces serious threats. Most importantly, as is the case with all of our videos, we want to inspire Americans of all political stripes to protect our democratic republic."

We rate the claim that this video shows Russian President Vladimir Putin talking in English about U.S. democracy False. 

Our Sources

Instagram post, April 16, 2023

The New York Times, Can we no longer believe anything we see?, April 8, 2023 

RepresentUs, First-ever use of deepfake technology in a major ad campaign, Sept. 29, 2023 

RepresentUs, About Us, Accessed April 17, 2023 

YouTube, Dictators - Vladimir Putin, Sept. 29, 2020 

The Commission of Presidential Debates, September 29, 2020 Debate Transcript, Sept. 29, 2020

Fortune, These deepfake videos of Putin and Kim have gone viral, Oct. 2, 2020

Email interview, Ross Sherman media relations manager at RepresentUs, April 18, 2023

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That’s not Vladimir Putin discussing US democracy; it’s a deepfake

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