Fact check: Phony images masquerading as CNN coverage go viral amid war in Ukraine
(CNN) — As CNN works to debunk misinformation about the war in Ukraine, some social media accounts are working to spread misinformation about CNN’s own coverage of the war.
A series of phony screenshots — screenshots supposedly depicting CNN’s reporting but that are actually fabrications that aren’t from CNN at all — have spread widely on social media platforms over the past week.
One of these fakes, a screenshot of a nonexistent “CNN” report about actor Steven Seagal being spotted in Ukraine, was shared and then deleted by prominent podcaster Joe Rogan on Monday.
A second fake was posted by a hoax Twitter account that falsely claimed to be affiliated with CNN. That fake, of a nonexistent “CNN” report about an American being killed in Ukraine, was amplified on Monday by a Russian representative at the United Nations.
A third fake was a digitally altered screenshot that inserted phony text about India and the war in Ukraine into an unrelated CNN television segment from 2019.
Here’s a look at all three.
A fake post about Steven Seagal
One fake image purports to be screenshot of a CNN social media post about Steven Seagal being seen with the Russian military in Ukraine.
The fake image features a shot of Seagal — the Michigan-born action star who was granted Russian citizenship in 2016 and is known as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — wearing a military uniform and carrying a gun.
The text of the fake “CNN” post reads: “Intelligence agencies around the world have spotted American actor Steven Seagal among Russian special forces positioned around the outskirts of Gostomel airfield near Kyiv captured by Russian airborne troops.”
Facts First: The Seagal image is fabricated. CNN never reported anything like this. The shot of Seagal armed and in uniform is from a movie called “Cartels,” which was released in 2017, not from the war in Ukraine.
There has been no indication that Seagal, who is 69 years old, is involved in the war. He told Fox on Monday that he looks at Ukraine and Russia as “one family,” blames outside “propaganda” for prompting hostility between the countries, and wants “a positive, peaceful resolution where we can live & thrive together in peace.”
Rogan, who has been criticized for amplifying misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, deleted his Monday posts of the phony Seagal screenshot. He then wrote on both Facebook and Instagram: “I deleted my earlier post about Steven Seagal being in Ukraine because it was parody, which isn’t surprising, but honestly it wouldn’t be surprising if it was true either.” (He pointed to a 2017 Washington Post article that reported that Seagal had been banned from Ukraine for five years as an alleged security threat.)
The fake Seagal image was previously debunked by multiple outlets, including PolitiFact and Mediaite.
Fake tweets about an American being killed
In a tweet on Monday, a Russian official at the UN, First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy, bashed the mainstream media for alleged “lies and fakes.” The supposed evidence Polyanskiy pointed to, however, was itself fake — two phony tweets from accounts impersonating CNN.
The first tweet, an August post from an account calling itself “CNN Afghanistan,” said that a journalist named Bernie Gores had been executed by the Taliban in Kabul. The second tweet, a February 23 post from an account calling itself “CNN Ukraine,” said that an activist named Bernie Gores was the “first American casualty of the Ukraine crisis,” having been killed by a “mine planted by Russian backed separatists.”
The two tweets used the same photo of “Bernie Gores.” Numerous social media users were duped by the fake accounts, and they criticized or mocked CNN for supposedly reporting that the same man died in two different wars.
Facts First: Both tweets about a “Bernie Gores” being killed are fabrications not connected to CNN. The “CNN Ukraine” and “CNN Afghanistan” accounts behind the tweets are both phonies that have been suspended by Twitter for violating its policy against impersonation. The “Bernie Gores” photo used in both of the tweets is actually a photo of a gaming personality who is not named Bernie Gores. Online trolls have repeatedly circulated the man’s photo during global crises.
Reuters debunked the phony “CNN Afghanistan” tweet about “Bernie Gores” in August. But the tweet took on new life in February when the phony “CNN Ukraine” tweet was posted.
FactCheck.org, which debunked the latest “Bernie Gores” nonsense on Sunday, reported that the “CNN Ukraine” account was created this February and had only 129 followers. But that didn’t stop its “Bernie Gores” tweet from being screenshotted and then shared by many others.
A fake screenshot about Russia and India
Another phony image that has circulated on social media in the past two weeks purports to be a screenshot from a CNN television broadcast.
The image features Putin on the left and CNN journalist Frederik Pleitgen reporting from Moscow on the right. A text title near the bottom of the image says, “PUTIN’S NEW PUNCHLINE.” But doctored text right below says, “India should not interfere, otherwise be ready to face the consequences.”
Facts First: This image was digitally altered; the “India” sentence at the bottom of the screen is phony that never appeared on CNN. The fabricated sentence about India was inserted into an actual screenshot of a CNN television segment from November 2019. The actual text that CNN aired in that spot read as follows: “TOP RUSSIAN OFFICIAL JOKES ABOUT INTERFERING IN U.S. ELECTIONS IN 2020.”
Aside from the poor formatting and grammar of the fabricated “India” sentence, one telltale sign that the image is not from 2022 is that there is a box under Pleitgen’s face promoting CNN’s special coverage of impeachment hearings. Pleitgen was reporting as the House of Representatives prepared to impeach then-President Donald Trump for the first time. There are no major impeachment hearings happening in 2022.
This fake image was previously debunked by Indian fact-check website Alt News and by Reuters.