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How disinformation from a Russian AI spam farm rose to the top of Google search results

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How disinformation from a Russian AI spam farm rose to the top of Google search results

Within 24 hours, a Russian disinformation piece about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife purchasing a Bugatti with US aid money spread like wildfire across the internet. Although it originated on an unknown French website, it quickly became a trending topic on X and the top result on Google.

On Monday, July 1, a news story was published on the website Vérité Cachée. The headline of the article read: “Olena Zelenska became the first owner of the new Bugatti Tourbillon.” The article claimed that during a trip to Paris with her husband in June, the first lady was able to privately view a new Bugatti supercar worth $4.8 million and immediately placed an order. It also included a video of a man who claimed to work at the dealership.

But the video, like the website itself, was completely fake.

Vérité Cachée is part of a network of websites likely linked to the Russian government that push According to researchers at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, who are tracking the group’s activities, Russian propaganda and disinformation targeting audiences across Europe and the United States is powered by artificial intelligence. The group found that similar websites on the web with names like Great British Geopolitics or The Boston Times use generative AI to create, scrape and manipulate content, publishing thousands of articles attributed to fake journalists.

Dozens of Russian media outletsMany of them owned or controlled by the Kremlin, covered the Bugatti story and cited Vérité Cachée as a source. Most of the articles appeared on July 2, and the story was spread on multiple pro-Kremlin Telegram channels that have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. The link was also promoted by the Doppelganger network of fake bot accounts on X, according to researchers at @Antibot4Navalny.

At that point, Bugatti had issued a statement denying the story.But the misinformation quickly took hold on X, where it was posted by several pro-Kremlin accounts before being… collected by Jackson Hinkleto pro-russiana pro-Trump troll with 2.6 million followers. Hinkle shared the story, adding that it was “American taxpayer dollars” that paid for the car.

English-language websites began reporting the story, citing social media posts by figures like Hinkle as well as the Vérité Cachée article. As a result, anyone searching for “Zelensky Bugatti” on Google last week would have found a link to MSN, Microsoft’s news aggregator site, which republished a story written by Al Bawaba, a Middle Eastern news aggregator, citing “several social media users” and “rumors.”

Within hours, the fake news story went from an unknown website to becoming a trending topic online and the top result on Google, highlighting how easy it is for bad actors to undermine people’s trust in what they see and read online. Google and Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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