How misinformation from a Russian AI spam farm shot to the top of Google search results


Within 24 hours, Russian misinformation about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife buying a Bugatti car with US aid money spread rapidly on the Internet. Although it came from an unknown French website, it soon became a trending topic on X and the top result on Google.

On Monday, July 1, a news story was published on the website Verité Cachaée. The headline of the article read: “Olena Zelenska becomes the first owner of a brand new Bugatti Tourbillon.” The article claimed that during a trip to Paris with her husband in June, the first lady was given the chance to see a new $4.8 million supercar from Bugatti and immediately placed an order. It also included a video of a man who claimed to work at the dealership.

But like the website, this video was also completely fake.

According to researchers at cybersecurity company Recorded Future, who have been tracking the group’s activities, Veritable Catchy is part of a network of websites possibly linked to the Russian government that deliver Russian propaganda and misinformation to audiences across Europe and the US, and that are supercharged by AI. The group found that similar websites in the network with names like Great British Geopolitics or The Boston Times use generative AI to create, scrape and manipulate content, and publish thousands of articles under the names of fake journalists.

Dozens of Russian media outlets, many owned or controlled by the Kremlin, covered the Bugatti story and cited Vérité Catchee as the source. Most of the articles were published on July 2, and the story spread across multiple pro-Kremlin Telegram channels that have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. According to researchers at @Antibot4Navalny, the link was also promoted by a doppelganger network of fake bot accounts on X.

At the time, Bugatti released a statement denying the story. But the misinformation soon spread on X, where it was posted by several pro-Kremlin accounts before it was picked up by Jackson Hinkle, a pro-Russia, pro-Trump troll with 2.6 million followers. Hinkle shared the story and said it was “American taxpayers’ money” that paid for the car.

English-language websites then began reporting on the story, citing social media posts by people like Hinkle and the Vérité Catchee article. As a result, anyone searching “Zelensky Bugatti” on Google last week would have been shown a link to Microsoft’s news aggregation site MSN, which republished a story written by Middle Eastern news aggregator Al Bawaba, which cited “multiple social media users” and “rumors.”

It took just a few hours for fake news from an unknown website to become a trending topic online and the top result on Google, highlighting how easy it is for bad actors to undermine people’s trust in what they see and read online. Google and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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