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Hollywood stars unwittingly entrapped in pro-Russian propaganda campaign

WTF?! Pro-Russian propaganda campaigns are nothing new, but this is the first one we’ve heard of that recruited Hollywood stars such as Elijah Wood without their knowledge. The actors did not know that their clips, created on platforms like Cameo, would be edited to falsely depict Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a drug addict.

Microsoft reports that since July 2023, Russia-aligned actors have been using platforms such as Cameo, where well-known (and not so well-known) individuals record personalized messages such as birthday wishes for people. In these instances, the services were utilized for propaganda purposes.

The campaign involved asking the celebs to send a message to someone called “Vladimir,” pleading with him to seek help for substance abuse.

The videos were edited to include emojis, links, and overlays to make them appear as if they came directly from the stars’ own social media accounts. The doctored clips were then shared across Russian social media, an attempt to push Russia’s long-claimed false narrative that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky struggles with substance abuse.

Some of the videos feature high-profile celebs. Microsoft Threat Analysis Center says it has observed seven of these since late July 2023, featuring Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), John McGinley from Scrubs, musician Shavo Odadjian, Kate Flannery (The Office), and Priscilla Presley.

Russian state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti published a story in August after McGinley’s video started gaining traction, portraying the clip as genuine. “Over the past year, booze and drugs have become your best friends, I understand. The most important piece of advice I can give you in this case is that the only way out is kindness,” the actor said, unaware who “Vladimir” was.

The videos were doctored to increase their legitimacy by adding the Ukrainian flag and tagging Zelensky’s Instagram account, all of which made the speakers look like they were addressing Ukraine’s president.

Russia has been embracing the realm of digital propaganda since it invaded Ukraine almost two years ago. Disinformation-spreading Russian bot farms are constantly being seized by Ukrainian authorities, and we’ve even seen pro-Russian sentiment appear in games such as Roblox, Minecraft, World of Tanks, World of Warships, Fly Corp, Armored Warfare, and War Thunder.

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