ArmA III, a video game that in the right circumstances can look pretty realistic, has a long history of turning up on news broadcasts and being either confused with or intentionally used in place of actual camera footage of real-world events. That trend is continuing in the current crisis in Ukraine.
As Bloomberg report, some of the most-viewed videos on Facebook’s gaming channel today were a number of clips purporting to be of military action taking place in Ukraine, “watched by more than 110,000 people and shared more than 25,000 times” before they were taken down by Facebook.
The same videos are also circulating on other social media, including Twitter; here’s one of the clips, posted with the text “Ukraine fires missiles to intercept Russian aircraft’s artillery fire”, though really it’s some Arma III footage:
UPDATE: Twitter has now removed both the video and the tweet itself, though you can see a part of it in the gif at the top of this story.
At time of posting that tweet has 11,000 likes and almost 2000 retweets. It’s easy for you and I to sit here and say “well of course that’s a video game”, but not everyone is familiar with ArmA’s attention to detail and visual fidelity. And remember, the smaller/blurrier these videos get on social media, the easier they are to pass off as actual footage.
This also speaks to a wider problem that anyone who has been online in the last 24 hours (or last 10 years) will have seen unfolding: any coverage of the invasion that allows input from the community is overflowing with opportunists looking for engagement (no matter how inaccurate the content they’re actually sharing is) and agents seeking to confuse and direct attention away from what’s actually happening.
It makes it hard to be able to tell what’s real and what’s not when looking at this stuff online, which is why sites like Facebook (see below) are trying to actually do something proactive and real-time for once, using human beings, to try and moderate things:
1/ In response to the unfolding military conflict in Ukraine, we have established a Special Operations Center to respond in real time. It is staffed by experts (including native speakers) so we can closely monitor the situation and act as fast as possible.— Nathaniel Gleicher (@ngleicher) February 24, 2022
Like I said, this isn’t the first time ArmA III footage has been misused in a time of crisis. Russian news was caught using it for a story on Syria in 2018 and tried passing it off as a “human error”, though Russian use of video game footage in 2017 to allege the US was supporting ISIS didn’t help their case.
Use this as a reminder that if you’re looking at stuff about Ukraine on social media, check then triple-check the sources and content before engaging with and/or sharing it.