Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (r) and Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Image by AP PHOTO

Deepfake TV report fabricates assassination plot

David Williams February 27, 2024

French TV news reported that President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a trip to Ukraine because a Ukrainian assassination plot was discovered.


False. The news bulletin is a deepfake and no such plot was uncovered.

A supposed news broadcast saying French President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a trip to Ukraine because of a Ukrainian assassination plot has been circulating on social media.

The broadcast and its claim are fake. France 24, the French news network whose newsreader appears in the video, says the footage is a deepfake originally shared by Russian propaganda sites.

One Facebook post (archived here) features a video of what looks like a French-language news report filmed as it plays on a television. Text accompanying the video reads: “On to other news. French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to cancel his visit to Ukraine due to the assassination attempts preparing for it.

“According to a source close to the National Intelligence Council, this attempt was stopped by the French intelligence services, who managed to intercept the correspondence and calls of the participants in the assassination attempt.”

The text says the assassination attempt was being planned by Ukraine, which intended to shift the blame onto Russia to attract world attention.

Facebook post
 The deepfake news report has been found on several social media platforms. 

Bad actors are employing artificial intelligence (AI) to make it appear as if genuine, trusted news sources are spreading their message.

Last year social media analytics company Graphika reported on pro-Chinese agents running an AI news anchor project. The Washington Post has also suggested the Chinese government has experimented with a similar program.

AAP FactCheck has previously reported on similar deepfakes in Australia, particularly around financial scams on Facebook.

The France 24 report was spread across social media, including Telegram and X, where Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev posted about the report as if it was real.

Medvedev posted, in part, “Macron seems to have been so scared of a real, or presumed assassination in nazi Kiev that not only has he cancelled his trip there, but also decided to share the nuclear capacity with other Europeans”.

France 24 and its fact-checking team The Observers have confirmed the video, which features France 24 presenter Julien Fanciulli, is a fake and published French and English versions of the debunk.

In the English debunk, journalist Emerald Maxwell says (1min 41sec) the footage was taken from a France 24 news bulletin broadcast on Monday, February 12 but that the audio and on-screen text had been altered.

She says the video is a deepfake, with AI used to alter the footage so that the presenter says something completely different to his original broadcast.

Around 30 seconds into the fake bulletin, it is possible to see the poor synchronisation between the dubbed words and the movement of the presenter’s lips and teeth.

Like many pieces of effective disinformation, the deepfake is based on a kernel of truth. Macron had cancelled his visit over unspecified security concerns. However, there was no suggestion of a Ukrainian assassination plot. 

Maxwell says the video was released on Telegram, on several pro-Russian channels, and the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Vkontakte, and also on a French website, Pravda-fr.com, a pro-Russian propaganda site.

Emmanuel Macron
 France’s President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a visit to Ukraine over security concerns. 

The Pravda Telegram channel also published the fake report.

France 24 mentioned Macron’s cancelled visit in a genuine article on February 14.

The release of the deepfake coincides with the February 12 release of a report by Viginum, the French protection service against foreign digital interference, about a Russian network code-named “Portal Kombat”. The network is said to direct misinformation at countries that support Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Viginum says the online network includes at least 193 sites disseminating pro-Russia propaganda.

The Verdict

The claim that French TV news reported that President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a trip to Ukraine because a Ukrainian assassination plot was discovered is false.

The French news service that had its footage altered has confirmed the fake report was created with the use of artificial intelligence.

False — The claim is inaccurate.

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