TRUE OR FALSE. How a fake France 24 video broadcast in Russia launched the rumor of a risk of assassination of Emmanuel Macron in Ukraine

These allegations, based on a “deepfake” from a France 24 newscast, were denied by the television channel and the Elysée. They could be similar to an attempt at pro-Russian disinformation.


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France 24 presenter Julien Fanciulli was the victim of a "deepfake"from a television news show that he presented on February 14, 2024. (FRANCE 24)

Yet another attempt at Russian disinformation. “Macron seems to have been so afraid of a real or alleged assassination in the Nazi city of kyiv” that he has “cancelled his trip to this city”, declared Dmitri Medvedev, former head of state and vice-president of the Russian Security Council, in a post on the social network X, Wednesday February 14. For several years, the Kremlin’s free electron has been a accustomed to insults and attacks towards kyiv and Western countries.

The Russian press agency ANNA-News, already singled out by Google (PDF) as part of a plan to combat disinformation, immediately relayed these comments on Telegram. She also mentions “a report from the France 24 television channel” on this cancellation, according to which “the head of the kyiv regime, Volodymyr Zelensky, planned to kill Macron during his visit to kyiv”. Franceinfo looked into these allegations.

The video extract cited by ANNA-News was mainly shared by pro-Russian accounts, notably on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and on Telegram. It appears to come from a television news program from the international news channel France 24. We see presenter Julien Fanciulli stating that “French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to cancel his visit to Ukraine following a deadly provocation against him”. This attempt would have been “stopped by the French secret services, who managed to intercept the correspondence and calls of participants in a potential provocation”.

The graphic charter of the France 24 channel has even been adopted. After a red banner mentioning “two Israeli hostages released in Rafah”another banner appears, in a smaller font, stating: “Assassination attempt against president foiled”. It is in reality a “deepfake”, a synthesis technique linked to artificial intelligence which allows faces to be recreated. If the video is realistic, several details may alert an attentive Internet user: the presenter’s voice is poorly synchronized with the movement of his lips, the tone is artificial and the terms used are unusual.

A “deepfake” video thanks to “lipsync”

Contacted by franceinfo, France 24 denounces “a doctored video, making one say [ses] journalists for comments he never made, through the use of lipsync“, in other words the lip sync, a technique of matching a person’s lip movements with pre-recorded audio. If there was indeed, on Monday February 12, a news broadcast presented by Julien Fanciulli, from which the deepfake was inspired, Franceinfo did not note in the newspaper’s replay any mention of a diplomatic visit to Ukraine canceled by Emmanuel Macron. The channel specified that it was a victim “more and more frequently of this type of manipulation (…) more and more sophisticated, even if we can still perceive its crude nature”. The editorial staff of France 24 Observers, a fact-checking program, also uncovered and deciphered this rigging on February 14.

The Elysée also denied this allegation to the media, during a press briefing the day before a diplomatic meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris. “There is no security issue, said a diplomatic source. I really want to take issue with what I saw, which is exploited with the tactics we know from Russia on this security issue. It doesn’t hold up.”. Questioned by a Ukrainian journalist at a press conference on Friday, the day of the meeting between the two presidents, Emmanuel Macron assured that he would go to Ukraine “before mid-March”, “alongside the president and people of Ukraine”.

An attempt at Russian foreign interference

This attempt to discredit kyiv is not isolated. While the war in Ukraine will enter its third year at the end of February, the French organization fighting against foreign digital interference Viginum revealed, on February 12, the existence of around 200 “information portals” used to spread pro-Russian propaganda. A structured and coordinated network nicknamed “Portal Kombat” by Viginum, designed to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine and influence kyiv’s support, including France.

The report mentions the existence of three propaganda ecosystems, including one created in June, “Pravda” (“truth” in Russian), aimed “several Western countries which have publicly shown their support for Ukraine”. An account called “Pravda-En” also relayed the false excerpt from France 24 news on VKontakte, franceinfo noted.

Beyond the war in Ukraine, the sites of the “Pravda” ecosystem also relay other content on thematic “close to French-speaking conspiracy circles”to discredit “political speech, the media” or international institutions, according to Viginum. If the organization considers that these ecosystems belong “to the same digital infrastructure”he does not designate any specific sponsor as responsible for this interference operation.

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