Points of View

Deep Fakes Pose a Massive Threat to Society and Democracy. Don't Get Caught Off-guard.

Oct 11, 2018 Tyler Bettilyon

From the unattributable, “winners write the histories,” to Napoleon Bonaparte’s, “History is a set of lies agreed upon,” folk wisdom is full of references to humanity’s tenuous relationship with objective reality. Some of the latest developments in the propaganda arms race, colloquially called “Deep Fakes,” are a frightening harbinger of the Disinformation Age that may be coming. Journalists, governments, and media organizations need to start developing their strategies for handling these fake videos today.


Advances in new technologies and ML are cranking up the fraud factor


The existence of counterfeits is clearly not news; we’ve been paying Hollywood for realistic looking fiction for many years. The invention of photoshop brought with it fearful rhetoric similar to what you’ll find in the rest of this article, and for good reason. The arrival of high quality digital photo manipulation forced journalists, citizens, and intelligence agents to be more skeptical than ever before of photographic evidence. We need to continue to ramp our skepticism up in the face of these new fraud-making technologies (discussed and defined below).


The latest developments in video manipulation, especially in the realm of falsifying “video portraits” (video of someone facing the camera from the shoulders up) are impressive, and troubling. For example, watch this presentation from the SIGGRAPH 2018 conference:



You may have seen a video like this already. Comedian and writer Jordan Peele created a similar video, depicting Barack Obama saying things that of course the former president would never say. Before that, Radiolab did an episode on these new advances and made their own fake as part of their reporting.


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