Elijah Wood, other actors unwittingly caught up in Russia propaganda effort

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The Kremlin took advantage of celebrities by repurposing video messages they had recorded, in order to falsely portray Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky as a drug addict, and diminish support for the war-torn country’s leader. 

Russian-aligned propaganda peddlers solicited the recordings from American actors including Elijah Wood of “The Lord of the Ring” film series, on apps like Cameo, where people can purchase customized greetings from celebrities and public figures, according to the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center’s latest report on Russian digital threats. 

The well-known actors were asked to record video messages to a stranger named “Vladimir,” asking him to seek help for substance abuse, according to the report. 

Other boldface names unwittingly caught up in the propaganda effort, which began in July 2023, include Priscilla Presley and TV stars Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad,” Kate Flannery of “The Office,”and John McGinley, best known for his role in “Scrubs.” Musician Shavo Odadjian, the bassist for System of a Down, and former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, were also unknowingly included, according to the report. 

Russian influencing agents doctored the videos, sometimes adding media outlet logos, emojis and more, screenshots of the recordings show. 

“Videos circulate through pro-Russian social media communities and are amplified by Russian state- affiliated and state-run media outlets, falsely portrayed as messages to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky,” the report read.  

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Russian influencing agents doctored Cameo videos featuring Elijah Wood and other celebrities.  Microsoft Threat Analysis Center

Cameo declined to comment directly on the report, but said that this type of booking would “violate Cameo’s Community Guidelines, and in cases where such violations are substantiated Cameo will typically take steps to remove the problematic content and suspend the purchaser’s account to help prevent further issues.”

Wood’s Cameo account indicates that he is currently unavailable to record new videos. Representatives for Wood did not immediately reply to CBS MoneyWatch’s request for comment. 

The report’s authors also add that artificial intelligence has aided some of Russia’s efforts to dupe the public and spread fabricated material across social media channels. 

Sophisticated AI-powered voice cloning tools, for example, now make it easy for bad actors to convincingly impersonate and scam others. 

Megan Cerullo

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Megan Cerullo is a New York-based reporter for CBS MoneyWatch covering small business, workplace, health care, consumer spending and personal finance topics. She regularly appears on CBS News streaming to discuss her reporting.

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