Photos of a Russian military recruitment billboard bearing the face of former porn star turned YouTube and Twitch streamer Sasha Grey appeared online over the weekend. In the photos, she appears to be wearing a Russian military uniform and is sitting behind a desk, as if waiting for men to sign up for the military. “Service is a worthy choice,” the billboard said, according to Google translate.
The image is a photoshop made from three separate images. The original recruitment ad featured a smiling soldier with the same message. The woman in the uniform comes from a profile of a Russian troop, and Grey’s face has just been layered on top. This isn’t the first time Grey’s face has appeared in weird Russian propaganda.
The image was posted to Twitter on November 28 by pro-Ukrainian twitter account Igor Sushko. Grey responded the same day. “My phone is blowing up. Another flaccid attempt at creating hate and division,” Grey said on Twitter. “Can anyone verify this is a real advertisement in Russia, and where? Meme or not, I don’t condone this. Be wary of what you are. PS the b00bs are too big, and MAKE LOVE NOT WAR.”
Weirdly, this is not the first time Grey has been caught in a weird online propaganda war involving Russia. Russia has appropriated the images of Western celebrities for propaganda purposes in the past, and there’s no indication the billboard even exists.
Grey’s followers quickly found the original images that had been used to make the meme. Grey herself then replied, giving a great rundown of questions to ask when you’re suspicious of an image you see online. “Why I always say be wary of what u share: where is this building? Why is the photo zoomed in? Why don’t we see surrounding buildings, and why aren’t we given an address? Apart from the bad photoshop, there’s a chance that the entire thing is fake & doesn’t exist. I need receipts,” she said on Twitter.
Grey was an early and vocal supporter of Ukraine. Almost a decade before Russia’s full scale invasion, Ukrainians took to the streets to protest for closer ties to the West and fight against a corrupt government. Now called the Maidan Uprising, the 2013 protests laid the groundwork for the current conflict. “Stay strong Kiev! #Ukraine,” Grey tweeted in December of 2013, a month after the protests began.
Two years later, reports circulated on Russian social media sites that Grey had died in Ukraine. After the Euromaidan, Russia invaded the Donbas region of east Ukraine. Using local militia groups and Russia paramilitary units, Moscow took control of provinces and cities on its border with Ukraine. According to a meme that circulated on the Russian social media site VK, Grey was working as a nurse near the city of Donetsk. The meme said she’d been captured by Ukrainian soldiers and murdered.
This was, of course, not true. But that didn’t stop Russians from sharing it on the social media site VK and other platforms. “I <3 my Russian fans, but this propaganda takes it too far. News that I was a NURSE killed in the Russian/Ukraine conflict. #fuckpropoganda” Grey said on Twitter at the time.
The rumor that Grey had been killed online started on Dvach, an eastern European image board similar to 4chan. Trolls on the board wanted to see how much wild propaganda they could get normal people to repeat. “We’re going to zoo-observe our dear compatriots, and try to find out how ridiculous disinformation has to be, before a vatnik [a derogatory term for Russians] starts to second-guess it. We don’t know if there’s even a limit, but here goes nothing,” an poster said on Dvach at the time, according to a report from Global Voices.
Grey didn’t appreciate being at the center of a weird propaganda war involving online trolls. “People are dying. People are losing family members & BS outlets mock the deceased with Fappery like this,” she said on Twitter in 2015.
Things have changed since 2015. The world is more accustomed to dumb bullshit piling up online. Back then, reports of the Dvach meme made it all the way to NBC News. Today, a photoshop of Grey’s image on a Russian recruitment billboard is unlikely to gain much notice.