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Arma 3 Video Game War imagery used to spread waves of misinformation about the conflict in Ukraine

Troops fight through burning streets. Missiles shoot down fighter jets. Drones pulverize tanks. The dramatic images have the hallmarks of real combat, but they are clips from video games that fuel misinformation.

Footage from the war-themed Arma 3 video game, often marked “live” or “breaking news” to make it appear real, has been repeatedly used in fake videos depicting the Russian offensive in Ukraine in recent months.

The frequency and ease with which game footage is mistaken as real, even by some media outlets, and shared as authentic news on social media highlights what researchers call its serious potential to spread misinformation.

“The fact that it keeps happening reminds us how easy it is to fool people,” Claire Wardle, co-director of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University, told AFP.

“As video game visuals become more sophisticated, CGI (computer-generated imagery) can look real at a glance. People need to know how to verify images, including viewing metadata, so these mistakes aren’t made, especially by editors.”

Arma 3, whose Czech-based developers promise “real combat gameplay in a massive military sandbox,” allows players to create a variety of battlefield scenarios using planes, tanks, and a host of weapons.

Players often upload hours of gaming content to platforms such as YouTube and researchers blame the easy availability for its misuse.

In the comments below an Arma 3 video titled “Ukraine’s counteroffensive!” — which simulated a missile attack on a column of tanks — wrote one user, who apparently took it for real: “After this war, we must ask Ukraine to train NATO troops on how to fight.”

First TikTok War

“While it’s flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern warfare in such a realistic way, we’re certainly not happy that it could be mistaken for real battle footage and used as wartime propaganda,” said a representative of Bohemia Interactive, the game’s creator. said in a statement.

“We have tried to combat such content by flagging these videos with platform providers, but it is very ineffective. With every video that is removed, ten new ones are uploaded every day.”

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

So has AFP, which has debunked several videos featuring Arma 3 content, including one in November that also claimed Russian tanks were hit by US-made Javelin missiles. The video has been viewed tens of thousands of times on social media.

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

Dubbed the “first TikTok war” by observers, it is a conflict unlike any other as a steady stream of images from the front lines – some of which are misleading or false – pour onto social media platforms.

Given the unsophisticated nature of Arma 3’s disinformation, 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 company Bellingcat told AFP.

“Secondary distributors will be gullible people who pick up and distribute this content in an attempt to collect fake Internet points.”

Bohemia Interactive said the fake videos were “shared en masse” by social media users, many of whom are looking for what researchers call “engagement bait”: eye-catching posts that generate more interaction through likes, shares and comments .

Different from reality

Arma 3’s videos, which the creator acknowledged are “quite capable of spreading fake news,” were also shared by various mainstream media outlets and government agencies around the world, Bohemia Interactive said.

In a November live broadcast, Romania TV falsely presented an old Arma 3 video as combat footage from Ukraine, and a former Romanian defense minister and former intelligence chief offered their analysis of the footage as if it were real.

This happened after another Romanian news channel, Antena 3, made the same mistake in February. One of the experts invited by the broadcaster to analyze the Arma 3 video was the spokesperson for the Romanian Defense Ministry.

Bohemia Interactive has urged users to use game content responsibly, not use clickbait video titles, and clearly identify it as being from a video game.

Investigators say their videos are relatively easier to debunk compared to “deepfakes” — fabricated images, audio and videos created using technology that experts warn is frighteningly advanced and gaining ground in the criminal underworld.

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

“As good as Arma 3 looks, it’s still significantly different from reality.”

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

“It shows that some people don’t have the skills to navigate today’s information environment,” Waters said.

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