'Chinese social media turned me from Ukrainian to Russian'

image caption, Olga Luik has seen her face in various videos on Chinese social media

  • the author, Fan Wang
  • the role, BBC News
WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

“I don't want anyone to think I've ever said these horrible things in my life. Using a Ukrainian girl to be the face of Russia's propaganda. It's crazy.”

Olga Luik has seen her face appear in various videos on Chinese social media — the result of easy-to-use generative AI tools available online.

“I could see my face and hear my voice. But it was all very scary, because I found myself saying things I had never said,” says the 21-year-old, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. .

Among the accounts that resembled her were dozens of different names, such as Sophia, Natasha, April and Stacey. These “girls” were speaking in Mandarin – a language Olga had never learned. They were apparently from Russia, and talked about China-Russia friendship or advertised Russian products.

“I saw like 90% of the videos were talking about China and Russia, China-Russia friendship, that we have to be strong allies, as well as food ads.”

One of the largest accounts was “Natasha Imported Food” with a following of over 300,000 users. “Natasha” would say things like “Russia is the best country. It's sad that other countries are turning away from Russia, and Russian women want to come to China”, before promoting products like Russian candy.

This personally offended Olga, whose family is still in Ukraine.

But on a broader level, his case has drawn attention to the dangers of a technology that is developing so rapidly that regulating it and protecting people has become a real challenge.

From YouTube to Xiaohongshu

Olga's Mandarin-speaking AI appearances began to emerge in 2023 — shortly after she started a YouTube channel that doesn't update very regularly.

About a month later, she started receiving messages from people who claimed to have seen her speaking in Mandarin on Chinese social media platforms.

Intrigued, he started looking for himself, and found Xiaohongshu – an Instagram-like platform – and Bilibili, a video site similar to YouTube.

“There were a lot of them. [accounts]. Some had things like Russian flags in their bios,'' said Olga, who has used about 35 accounts to get her likeness.

After her fiancé tweeted about the accounts, HeyGen, a firm she claims developed the tool used to create AI simulations, responded.

He revealed that over 4,900 videos have been created using his face. They added that they have stopped using her image any further.

A spokesperson for the company told the BBC that their system had been hacked to create what they called “unauthorised content”, adding that they had improved their security and safety measures to prevent further misuse of their platform. Updated the authentication protocol immediately.

But Angela Zhang of the University of Hong Kong says what happened to Olga is “very common in China”.

He said the country was “home to a vast underground economy that specializes in counterfeiting, misusing personal data, and developing deepfakes”.

This is despite China being one of the first countries to try to regulate AI and what it can be used for. It has even changed its civil code to protect rights of similarity from digital creations.

Statistics released by the Public Security Department in 2023 show that authorities arrested 515 people for “AI face swap” activities. Chinese courts have also dealt with cases in this area.

image caption, Olga found about 35 accounts using her likeness

But then how did so many videos of Olga get online?

One reason may be that they promoted the idea of ​​friendship between China and Russia.

Beijing and Moscow have grown significantly closer in recent years. Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin have said that there is no limit to the friendship between the two countries. The two are scheduled to meet in China this week.

“It is not clear whether these accounts were coordinating under a collective goal, but promoting a message that fits the government's propaganda certainly benefits them,” said Amy Hine, University of Bologna and K. Law and technology researcher U Levine said.

“Even if these accounts are not clearly linked to CCP. [Chinese Communist Party]promoting an associated message may make it less likely that their posts will be removed.”

But that means ordinary people like Olga remain unprotected and at risk of falling foul of Chinese law, experts warn.

Kayla Blomqvist, a technology and geopolitics researcher at the University of Oxford, warned that “there is a risk of artificially produced, politically sensitive material preparing individuals” who are subject to “swift punishments without due process”. can be targeted.

She adds that Beijing's focus on AI and online privacy policy has been to build consumer rights against predatory private actors, but stresses that “citizens' rights vis-à-vis the government are extremely weak.” “.

“The main goal of China's AI regulations is to balance maintaining social stability with promoting innovation and economic growth,” explains Ms. Hein.

“While the regulations on the books appear strict, there is evidence of selective enforcement, particularly the generative AI licensing rule, which may be aimed at creating a more innovation-friendly environment, with the understanding that the law will crack down If necessary, “he said.

'Not the last victim'

image caption, Olga's AI-generated videos offended her personally as a Ukrainian.

But the implications of Olga's case extend far beyond China — it shows the difficulty of trying to regulate an industry that appears to be evolving at breakneck speed, and where regulators are constantly playing catch-up. have been. But that doesn't mean they aren't trying.

In March, the European Parliament approved the AI ​​Act, the world's first comprehensive framework for limiting technology risks. And last October, US President Joe Biden announced an executive order requiring AI developers to share data with the government.

While regulations at the national and international level are developing more slowly than the rapid pace of AI development, we need “a clear understanding and strong consensus about the most pressing risks and ways to mitigate them.” .

“However, differences within and between countries impede concerted action. The United States and China are key players, but building consensus and coordinating the necessary joint action will be challenging.

Meanwhile, on an individual level, it seems that few people can get away with not posting anything online.

“Just don't give them any content to work with: don't upload your photos, videos, or audio to public social media,” says Ms. Hine. “However, bad actors always have incentives to imitate others, and so if governments crack down, I expect we'll see continued growth amid the regulatory hack-a-mole.”

Olga is “100% sure” she won't be the last victim of creative AI. But she's determined not to let it take her off the internet.

She has shared her experiences on her YouTube channel, and says some Chinese online users are helping her by commenting on videos using her likeness and pointing out fakes.

Many of these videos have now been removed, she adds.

“I wanted to share my story, I wanted to make sure people understand that what you see online is not real,” she says. “I love sharing my ideas with the world, and none of these cheaters can stop me from doing that.”

WhatsApp Group Join Now
Telegram Group Join Now
Instagram Group Join Now

Leave a Comment