College student's face stolen for pro-Russia deepfakes in China

When Olga Loiek, a 20-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, started a self-empowerment YouTube channel in November, she never imagined her face would be stolen and end up in pro-Russia deepfake videos on China's social media. But that's exactly what happened, as Loiek discovered when she received a message on Instagram: "Do you speak any Mandarin?"

The message led Loiek to a video on Xiaohongshu, a popular Chinese platform, featuring her digitally manipulated face speaking fluent Chinese and promoting Sino-Russian ties. "I felt violated because these were things I would never, never say in my life," Loiek, who is Ukrainian, told Business Insider.

Researchers have observed numerous deepfakes of Caucasian women, often YouTubers, being used for similar pro-Russia content on China's internet. "Inside China, because it's not so easy for Chinese users to go beyond the Great Firewall, they will not be able to do that cross-validation," Lyu Siwei, a computer science professor at the University at Buffalo, told Business Insider.

Loiek managed to get one account shut down but says dozens more have sprung up in its place. "It was so creepy because I was literally seeing my face talk about things I would never condone," she said.

Combating AI-generated disinformation across international borders will increase over time. Ari Lightman, a digital media professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told Business Insider, "These things are going to happen over and over again." Loiek, however, remains undeterred: "I don't think I have to think from a place of fear."