Fraudulent X campaign uses manipulated images of businessman David Velez

Fraudulent X campaign uses manipulated images of businessman David Velez
X (Twitter)
False and altered content
Content Moderation

"David Vélez advances welfare in Colombia, a milestone for the nation," reads the headline of a news item promoted during the first days of March on X (formerly Twitter). Despite the propagandistic tone, the image accompanying the link shows Vélez, CEO of the digital bank Nubank, arrested by two policemen. Above the piece, visibly edited, a message suggests that the businessman would have been caught in some illicit activity: "I didn't know the camera was still recording. Will it be the end of his career?".

Preview of the links set in X. 

With minor variations in the text or image, these pieces were posted by at least three accounts. None of them exceeded five followers and a blue badge identifies them as subscribers of X Premium, the paid service that, in the company's words, "prioritizes quality conversations on the platform".

This is not the first time that the image of the businessman, one of the richest people in Colombia, has been used for misleading campaigns. In January of this year, it was reported that his image had been used to disseminate a false interview with journalist Vicky Dávila -director of Semana Magazine- in which Vélez allegedly recommended a platform to invest in cryptocurrencies. 

One of the publications that circulated in the last few days revived this fake interview, although today it directs to an Amazon page to buy a finance book. Another link takes users to an apparent movie review site. 

The X Premium service not only offers the blue pimp that for years was used to signal the authenticity of accounts, but the ability to publish longer texts and monetize on the platform. To access it, in addition to paying a monthly fee, X requires confirming a phone number as part of registration, a standard that may not be high enough to guarantee malicious actors from accessing its services.

The posts about Vélez violate both X's content policies, which apply to all users, and the ad policies, which apply to those who advertise on the platform. 

The false and altered media content rule prohibits content that has been materially misrepresented with the deliberate intent to deceive, or content that is shared in a false context or causes widespread confusion about public issues or is likely to cause serious harm. The platform's advertising policies prohibit the posting of fraudulent content, including misleading marketing strategies or commercial practices. 

While the manipulation of Velez's images is of low quality - also known as cheapfakes -the case illustrates the possibility of exploiting the platforms' advertising services to disseminate altered content, a growing concern in the wake of the democratization and advancement of artificial intelligence models.

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