A host of actors were tricked by internet propagandists into making videos that were later used to attack Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
A report in the Wall Street Journal details at least seven Western celebrities, including Elijah Wood and Priscilla Presley, were among those lured into recording short videos eventually used to support Russia’s online information war against Ukraine. New security research by Microsoft and seen by the outlet confirms the claim.
The WSJ set out exactly the process used to trick the gullible into using Cameo, an app which facilitates the purchase of personalized messages from Hollywood’s favorites:
The celebrities look like they were asked to offer words of encouragement—apparently via the Cameo app—to someone named “Vladimir” who appears to be struggling with substance abuse, Microsoft said. Instead, these messages were edited, sometimes dressed up with emojis, links and the logos of media outlets and then shared online by the Russia-aligned trolls, the company said.
The point was to give the appearance that the celebrities were confirming that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was suffering from drug and alcohol problems, false claims that Russia has pushed in the past, according to Microsoft. Russia has denied engaging in disinformation campaigns.
In one of the videos, the WSJ said a crudely edited message by Wood to someone named Vladimir references drugs and alcohol, saying: “I just want to make sure that you’re getting help.”
Representatives for Wood and Presley weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday night.
The Cameo app was launched in 2017 to let celebrities make money from personal videos delivered to fans. The platform includes current celebrities but also attracts a mix of lesser-known names and fading stars.
A Cameo spokesman told the WSL it declined to comment on Microsoft’s findings, citing a company policy to not comment on its internal investigations. Those who misuse the service for disinformation would be suspended “to help prevent further issues,” he said.