The claim: Images show Russian President Vladimir Putin being arrested
A March 28 Facebook video (direct link, archive link) shows a series of images of Russian President Vladimir Putin being led away in handcuffs by police and sitting behind bars in a jail uniform.
“Putin has been arrested,” reads the video’s caption. “Breaking news, Putin has been arrested.”
A different post with the same video was shared more than 1,400 times and viewed more than 1.9 million times before the caption was edited to read, “Putin was not arrested.”
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Our rating: Altered
There have been no credible reports that Putin has been arrested. Multiple experts examined the images and found evidence that they are not authentic.
Images provide clues that they’re fake, experts say
The video has “all the hallmarks of a deepfake,” V.S. Subrahmanian, a computer science professor at Northwestern University, told USA TODAY.
“The clips showing a handcuffed Putin are unrealistic with the handcuffs not visible in places where they should be visible,” Subrahmanian said. “The clip showing Putin in a suit shows inconsistent lighting on his suit and hands.”
The fact that the images are presented in a video with “a lot of compression artifacts” is also suspicious, said James O’Brien, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Video compression is a process meant to reduce the file size of a video, though that often means the quality of the video is reduced.
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“It’s always possible that someone sets their video encoding parameters to lower quality for some good reason, but often it’s for the reason of using compression artifacts to hide problems in a forged image,” O’Brien said.
There are other signs that the images aren’t authentic. The image of Putin in a jail cell, for example, includes strangely twisted metal bars and an unrealistic depth of field, O’Brien said.
“The depth of field appears implausible,” he said. “Putin’s face is close enough to the bars that he could be leaning on them, yet his face is clear and the bars are very blurry. At the same time, the bars in the background are nice and crisp despite a much bigger relative difference in depth with his face.”
The image of Putin in a gray suit being restrained by uniformed officers, meanwhile, appears to show only three fingers on his left hand, a common issue with images generated by artificial intelligence.
“These images also have a lot of other issues that look like the smoothing and lighting artifacts generative AI images often have,” O’Brien said. “However, the lossy compression masks a lot of those effects.”
All of the images have a watermark identical to the username associated with a March 22 TikTok video that shows the same images and includes the caption, “funny picture,” followed by three laughing emojis.
No credible reports of Putin’s arrest
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on March 17, claiming he was involved in the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
But there have been no credible reports of Putin’s arrest, and he continues to be spotted in public.
Putin visited Crimea on March 18 to mark the ninth anniversary of the region’s illegal annexation from Ukraine, stopping at an art school and a children’s center, according to the Associated Press. That same day, Putin went to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
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Putin’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow during the week of March 20 was also covered by multiple media outlets.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.
PolitiFact also debunked the claim.
Our fact-check sources:
- V.S. Subrahmanian, March 28, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- James O’Brien, March 29, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- iStock by Getty Images, Jan. 20, 2022, What is video compression and what does it do?
- The Washington Post, March 26, AI can draw hands now. That’s bad news for deep-fakes.
- mr._valodya, March 22, TikTok post
- USA TODAY, March 17, International Criminal Court members issue arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes
- Associated Press, March 18, Facing arrest warrant, Russia’s Putin visits annexed Crimea
- Associated Press, March 19, Putin makes surprise trip to occupied Mariupol
- USA TODAY, March 20, China’s Xi visits ‘friendly neighbor’ in Moscow; Russia cites ‘monstrous consequences’ of Putin arrest warrant: Ukraine updates
- PolitiFact, March 28, These are not real photos of a Vladimir Putin arrest
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