How AI turned a Ukrainian YouTuber into a Russian

“I don’t want anyone to think I’ve ever said these horrible things in my life. Using a Ukrainian girl as a face to promote Russia. It’s crazy.”

Olga Loiek saw her face on several Chinese social networks. This is thanks to the easy-to-use creative AI tools available online.

“I saw my face and I heard my voice. But it was all very scary because I saw myself saying things I never said,” said the 21-year-old, who studies at the University of Pennsylvania. the BBC.

Accounts impersonating her had dozens of different names, including Sofia, Natasha, April and Stacy. These “girls” spoke Mandarin, a language Olga never learned. Apparently they were from Russia and talked about the friendship between China and Russia or promoted Russian products.

“I saw that 90% of the videos were about China and Russia, the friendship between China and Russia, that we must be strong allies, and food advertisements.”

One of the largest accounts was “Nataša brought food”, which had more than 300,000 users. “Natasha” would say things like “Russia is the best country”. It’s unfortunate that other countries are turning away from Russia and Russian women want to come to China,” before promoting products like Russian candy.

This personally angered Olga, whose family is still in Ukraine.

But more broadly, his case highlighted the dangers of a technology that is developing so rapidly that regulating it and protecting people has become a real challenge.

From YouTube to Xiaohongshun
Olga’s Mandarin-speaking AI companions started appearing in 2023, shortly after she launched a YouTube channel that is not updated very regularly.

About a month later, he started receiving messages from people who claimed to have seen him speaking Mandarin on Chinese social media.

Intrigued, he started looking for himself and found AI on Xiaohongshu, a platform similar to Instagram, and Bilibil, a video site similar to YouTube.

“There were a lot of these [accounts]. Some had Russian flags in their bios,” said Olga, who has so far found about 35 accounts similar to hers

When her fiance tweeted to the accounts, HeyGen, a company she claims has developed AI-like tools

They revealed that more than 4,900 videos were created from his face. They said they blocked further use of his image.

A spokesperson for the company told the BBC that their system had been hacked to create “unauthorized content”, adding that they had immediately updated their security and control protocols to prevent misuse of their platform.

But Angela Zhang of the University of Hong Kong says what happened to Olga is very common in China.

The country is “home to a huge shadow economy that specializes in counterfeiting, misuse of personal data and the production of deep fakes,” he said.

This is because China is one of the first countries to try to regulate AI and what it can be used for. It even changed its civil law to protect similar rights against digital fabrication.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Public Security in 2023 show that authorities arrested 515 people for AI face swapping. Chinese courts have also dealt with cases in that area.

But how did so many videos of Olga get online?

One reason may be that they promoted the idea of ​​friendship between China and Russia.

Beijing and Moscow have become much closer in recent years. Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin said that the friendship between the two countries knows no boundaries. They are scheduled to meet in China this week.

Chinese state media repeated Russian stories justifying the invasion of Ukraine, and social media censored discussion of the war.

“It is unclear whether these accounts are coordinating a common goal, but promoting a message that matches government propaganda is certainly useful for them,” said Emmie Hine, a law and technology researcher at the University of Bologna and University of Bologna. KU Leuven.

“Although these accounts are not specifically affiliated with the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], promoting a consistent message may decrease the likelihood of their posts being removed.”

But that means ordinary people like Olga are still vulnerable and at risk of falling foul of Chinese laws, experts warn.

Kayla Blomquist, a researcher on technology and geopolitics at the University of Oxford, warns that “there is a risk that artificially created, politically sensitive content could be framed” and “quickly punished without due process”.

He adds that Beijing is focusing on artificial intelligence and online privacy policies to increase consumer protection against predatory private companies, but stresses that “citizens’ rights vis-à-vis the government are still very weak.”

Ms. Hine explains that “A key goal of China’s AI regulations is to balance maintaining social stability with promoting innovation and economic development.”

“While the rules on the books appear strict, there is evidence of selective enforcement, particularly the next-generation AI licensing rule, which may be intended to create a more innovative environment, with the tacit understanding that the law will provide the basis for suppression if necessary,” he said.

But the implications of Olga’s case go far beyond China, showing how difficult it is to try to regulate an industry that appears to be developing rapidly and with regulators constantly trying to catch up. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try.

In March, the European Parliament approved the Artificial Intelligence Act, the world’s first comprehensive framework to limit technology risks. And last October, US President Joe Biden announced an executive order requiring AI developers to share data with the government.

While domestic and international regulations move slowly compared to the rapid growth of AI, we need “a clearer understanding and a stronger consensus about the most dangerous threats and how to mitigate them,” says Blomquist.

“However, differences within and between countries get in the way. The US and China are the main actors, but reaching consensus and coordinating the necessary joint actions is difficult,” he adds Few people seem to be able to post anything. online Their motives are to copy others, so even if governments reject, I see consistent growth amid regulatory explosions. But he’s determined not to let it drive him off the Internet.

He shared his experience on his YouTube channel and says that some Chinese netizens helped him by commenting on videos similar to his and pointing out that they were fake.

He adds that many of those videos have now been deleted.

“I wanted to share my story and make sure people understand that not everything you see online is true,” she says. “I love sharing my ideas with the world and none of these scammers can stop me from doing that.”.

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