The suspicious Twitter accounts claiming to be run by journalists in Ukraine
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The FRANCE 24 Observers team has launched an investigation into three Twitter accounts that claim to be run by journalists on the frontlines in Ukraine. The suspicious accounts were originally spotted by Conspirador Norteño, an account that specialises in studying misinformation on social media. But before that, they were thought to be authentic – one even appeared in an article in a British newspaper. We found several clues that raise concerns about whether these three people exist.
A Twitter account claiming to be run by a Ukrainian journalism student
"hello world . I have this account long time but I only post on it now because I think it important . I am Kyiv Citizen. I study to be Journalist. I now help my little siblings to Poland to safety, but I then return to fight in Kyiv with my two brothers [sic],” tweeted this Twitter user under the name "Luba Dovzhenko".
She started tweeting regularly in English and Ukrainian about the war in Ukraine, garnering more than 500 followers before her Twitter account was suspended on March 31.
The author tweeted in English, and sometimes Ukrainian, about her daily life in Kyiv.
"Smokey [sic] air today, air strikes overnight. People try not to go out," she wrote on March 16.
On March 18, she said, "My little sister just join school in Poland , she start school tomorrow ! She has a lot of worry but she is very clever , I am sure she enjoy . Happy news ! [sic]"
A lot of people were taken in by the account. On March 17, the British newspaper The Times published an article where Luba Dovzhenko, cited as the author, recounts her work as a volunteer helping provide Ukrainian soldiers with necessary supplies. A note at the end of the article says, "Luba Dovzhenko, 18, was a journalism student in Kyiv before the war."
However, on March 31, Conspirador Norteño, an account known for investigating misinformation online, posted a thread on Twitter, filled with evidence that they had gathered casting doubt on Luba’s existence.
Here's an interesting account: @lubadovzhenko1 (created February 2021), allegedly a journalism student in Kyiv with poor English skills who never used their Twitter account prior to March 2022. There are, however, at least four problems.— Conspirador Norteño (@conspirator0) March 31, 2022
cc: @ZellaQuixote pic.twitter.com/3dMXm9B7DL
Using the Twitter IP Address Finder, Conspirador Norteño tracked down the original name of the account and found out that, before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the account used the handle @camplostkids. The user had also deleted all of their Tweets prior to February 2022.
In her Twitter bio, Luba Dovzhenko apologises for making errors in English. However, before adopting the name Luba Dovzhenko and changing its handle, the account had been publishing Tweets and comments in fluent English, often using slang.
Conspirador Norteño also explained that the profile photo was likely generated using artificial intelligence.
If you run the image through a reverse image search on Google or Yandex, there is no sign that the photo has appeared anywhere online before. Moreover, the photo of Luba also has telltale signs of an image generated by artificial intelligence using GAN technology. When you superimpose Luba’s image on other AI generated images then you can see that the physical features in the two images align.
>> Read on The Observers: How can you spot a fake profile picture on social media?
Luba also posted many images that she claimed were taken from her daily life, but some of them were actually first shared by other accounts.
In March 2022, the author shared an image of a bag that she said belonged to her little sister. But Conspirador Norteño discovered that the same image was posted in April 2020 by another Twitter account. "Luba Dovzhenko" just flipped the image.
There is also a TikTok account under the handle lubadovzhenko. The description says “18 years old Citizen of Kyiv”. The Tiktok account, which was still online when this article was published on April 11, shared a video on March 1 of a group of Ukrainians waiting for a train along with the caption, "My little siblings are with me cold and scared.”
However, the same video was published in an article in the British daily newspaper The Daily Mail on February 27, two days prior, with no mention of Luba Dovzhenko or her siblings.
Moreover, there are some basic errors in the Ukrainian used on the accounts. Luba’s family name is spelled differently in Cyrillic on Twitter (Довженко, or Dovzhenko) and TikTok (Довшенко, or Dovchenko).
The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted The Times about the article they published authored by Luba. They responded on April 6, "We are investigating this matter and will respond in full when our investigation is concluded." The article has since been removed from their site.
Another account pretending to be a journalist in Ukraine
Twitter user Conspirador Norteño also identified another suspicious Twitter account, this one called "Beth Boykins". The account’s bio claims that Beth is a journalist located in Ukraine. Before the account was removed from Twitter on March 3, it had more than 4,800 followers.
This account was likely created using the same methods as the Luba Dovzhenko account. The profile picture was likely generated by artificial intelligence, which Conspirador Norteño demonstrated by superimposing other AI-generated images – again, the features align.
Moreover, the account now under the name "Beth Boykins" changed its handle and location and deleted previous Tweets after the war broke out. The archives published on March 1 by Conspirador Norteño show that the account was called "Kiwii publisher" before March 21 and the person claimed they were living in Arkansas in the southern United States.
Meet @BethBoykins22, an account with a GAN-generated profile pic claiming to be a journalist in Ukraine. (Check out the fake microphone!)— Conspirador Norteño (@conspirator0) March 1, 2022
(GAN = "generative adversarial network", the technology used by sites like https://t.co/AxF5723Pje to generate face pics.)
cc: @ZellaQuixote pic.twitter.com/Lbi2A4PJHG
"Beth Boykins" regularly posts images found elsewhere on social media, even taking their captions word for word. On March 1, the account posted a photo of a building in Ukraine along with the caption, "11:02 am somewhere in #Kyiv. It was the last view from my window. My broken heart is crying. I do hope there will be updates. We’re escaping."
However, the photo was first posted on another Twitter account, shared the same day with the exact same caption.
Third account run by a Ukrainian 'journalist'
Conspirador Norteño also investigated a Twitter account under the name Bohuslav Aleksander. The account bio says that Aleksander is a "journalist from Ukraine with @kyivindependent”. The Kyiv Independent is a Ukrainian newspaper published in English.
As shown by Conspirador Norteño, there aren’t any articles on the Kyiv Independent website written by a journalist by this name. The FRANCE 24 Observers team didn’t find any results either when we searched the archives of the newspaper. We also didn’t find any articles online in English or Russian under this name.
Why would someone create these accounts?
The FRANCE 24 Observers team asked Conspirador Norteño why someone might create these accounts:
I've been checking viral tweets about Ukraine (at least 100 retweets) every day or two since the war started, looking for accounts with AI-generated images, which is how I noticed @lubadovzhenko1 and @BethBoykins22.
@BohuslavAleksan and the others in this thread were the result of looking further at a fake follower botnet that was following multiple US congressional candidates.
Spreading misleading information or simply building an audience by claiming to be in the middle of a major news story are both possibilities (as are other things).
Even if the profiles are not run by who they say they are, these three accounts aren’t sharing false information about the war in Ukraine. There is no indication that these accounts are sharing pro-Ukrainian or pro-Russian propaganda either.
These profiles aren’t collecting donations for Ukrainians using suspicious platforms either, as some other fake accounts have done.
Some social media users may want to get a lot of followers on Twitter or TikTok in order to then sell their accounts. The new owner would then change the name of the account and share whatever content they like with the followers.
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