'Please help Ukraine': Fake livestreams on TikTok show telltale signs of a scam
Issued on: Modified:
While TikTok has been an important platform to document the Russian invasion in Ukraine, there has also been plenty of false information shared on the video app. The FRANCE 24 Observers team looked into some posts that used out-of-context or doctored videos as a pretext to ask for donations to help the Ukrainian people.
A video filmed in total darkness. You can hear a siren, moaning and gunshots. At first glance it may seem like an authentic, live broadcast from someone amidst the conflict in Ukraine. But if you keep watching, the supposedly "live" video appears to be playing on a loop. And it appeared on TikTok at 4:17pm Ukraine time, when the sun would still be out.
Other accounts had broadcast this same "live" video earlier in the day.
This type of fake livestream is not uncommon on TikTok, with certain common features: videos of unidentifiable buildings, sirens in the background, and the addition of loud noises and crying. Videos like this are often accompanied by messages such as "Pray for Ukraine" or "Donate for help". And they receive comments from people all over the world.
Flambée de comptes #Tiktok qui font des live en parlant russe ou autre sur fond de bruit de sirène, ou de personnes en habits militaires qui laissent penser qu’ils sont en Ukraine… 99% d’entre eux ont l’air d’énormes scams qui demandent des dons #LaGuerre pic.twitter.com/qkaGrGNcUy— Mathieu Flaig (@MathieuFlex) February 24, 2022
American broadcaster NBC found that one of these accounts had posted another video of the street where this "live" video had taken place. And that it showed UK license plates on the cars parked there.
In addition to attracting countless views, comments, likes and followers, these accounts are also collecting hundreds of donations. TikTok allows users to buy credits and send "virtual gifts" to creators during live broadcasts.
But it's hard to know exactly how much money these videos are bringing in. Some of the virtual gifts cost just a few cents, while others can be worth dozens of euros. The person receiving the gift can then cash them in for actual money – which isn't always equivalent to the amount that was donated. But the more viral the livestream, the more money it will bring in.
Fake live streams using looped videos and dubbed sounds are nothing new on TikTok. Sometimes users post videos of spectacular landscapes or impressive images. One user even managed to scam fans by reposting a live video of singer Billie Eilish. Now, some have seized onto the conflict in Ukraine as a way to raise money.