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How Did A Ukrainian Student Become A Russian In China? There’s An AI Connection

Ukrainian student Olga Loiek was keen to build her following on social media but she was soon surprised with the messages she got in her inbox. Olga said, “Around one month after I started my YouTube channel, I started receiving messages from people saying that they see me online speaking Mandarin and they think it’s not me and someone is stealing my identity.” The 21-year-old says her image was taken and spun through artificial intelligence to create alter egos on Chinese social media platforms.

Olga scrolls through a number of posts to show her digital doppelgangers including one of them who is called Natasha. She’s fluent in Chinese, and wants to thank China for its support of Russia. “I saw that this is literally like my face speaking Mandarin and, in the background, I’m seeing the Kremlin and Moscow, and I’m talking about things like how great Russia and China are. And my clone is advertising different Russian products, says a surprised Olga.

The fake accounts with Loiek’s image have hundreds of thousands of followers in China, far more than Loiek herself. They’ve also sold tens of thousands of dollars in products. Loiek’s face is representative of an increasing number of young Russian women on Chinese social networks. The catch? None of these doppelgangers actually exist.

Experts say they are AI-generated using clips of real women found online, often without their knowledge. Some of the posts even include a disclaimer saying they may have been created using AI. The avatars, like Loiek’s, express their love of China and say they want to support Russia at war by selling products from their homeland. One of them is seen saying – ‘China and Russia are good neighbors. China and Russia’s friendship lasts forever.’ And then she proceeds to advertise her Russian candies and you can actually go here and you can buy the candies that she is advertising.

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Experts say the videos using the fake avatars often pitch products to single Chinese men. “If the clone is portrayed as a Russian woman, she would talk about things like, I really want to find a Chinese husband, and I really want to go to China and live there for the rest of my life and have a family there because like, this country is so great,” explaining how she saw a lot of propaganda through the videos.

Jim Chai is the CEO of XMOV, a company that develops advanced AI technology, but not involved in Loiek’s predicament. He says the technology that creates such deepfakes is “very common” in China. “For example, to produce my own 2D digital human, I just need to shoot a 30-minute video of myself, and then after finishing that, I re-work the video. Of course, it looks very real, and of course, if you change the language, the only thing you have to adjust is the lip-sync. Actually, the only technology used here in AIGC is lip-sync,” said Chai.

Loiek’s story sheds light on the risks of the potentially illegal or unethical applications of Artificial intelligence. The use of deepfake technology has intensified concerns about how AI could add to misinformation, fake news and copyright issues. In January, China issued draft guidelines for standardizing the AI industry, proposing to form more than 50 national and industry-wide standards for AI by 2026. In Europe, the European Union’s new AI Act imposes strict transparency obligations on high-risk AI systems.Still, many governments around the world are scrambling to catch up with the pace of AI applications.

And some, like Loiek, remain caught up in the middle. “I really do not like the fact that anyone can use anyone else’s face to make them say anything you want. And I really don’t like that my face can be posed as someone completely different, as someone who would never say these, like, I am not the person who would say these things in my life. And I don’t want anyone to believe that I would.”