Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Will Deepfake Technology Become the Ultimate Weapon in the Disinformation War?

by Nomad

Last week, there was a lot of agitation made about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's faked video. If you missed it, a viral video emerged on social media which- through digital manipulation- appeared to show Pelosi three sheets to the wind.
As a method of digital deception, the video was, in fact, extremely crude but apparently sophisticated enough for most Trump supporters.
And if Trump tweeted it, it had to be true, right?

Facebook executives defended their decision not to ban the video, saying
“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe. Our job is to make sure that we are getting them accurate information. And that’s why we work with over 50 fact-checking organizations around the world.”
Critics who have always been skeptical of Mark Zuckerberg's policies called the excuse "half-assed."
But, according to Facebook's rules, posting fake or misleading information is not a violation. Actually, Facebook does not “have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”
Heading into the next election-  where the stakes are sky high- that kind of shoulder-shrugging alarms a lot of people who shiver at the thought of another foreign disinformation blitzkrieg.

For them, the worrying question is whether this Pelosi stunt was a dry run for much more sophisticated techniques that will soon be employed during the 2020 presidential election. And once again, social media outlets seem woefully unprepared to the storms to come. 


One of those techniques that keeps the experts up at night is called Deepfake. Coined in 2017, the term refers to technique algorithms are used to seamlessly combine images or videos to create something entirely new. When done with the help of machine learning or artificial intelligence, it is almost impossible for the average person to discern the real from the synthesized image.  

Even when used for entertainment, the effects can be extremely disorienting. Watch carefully as Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader does an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger:

See anything unusual? In fact, Hader's imitation has been augmented with images of Schwarzenegger's face. That's thanks to deep fake technology. Hader's face shifts so quickly and so subtly that the transitions are nearly undetectable. It borders on the subliminal.
But it's harmless and fun to play with but there is a dark side too.

Deepfakes offer the potential of making a person appear to say or do something they did not. Because of that, they could be used for political deception or other malicious purposes by those looking to spread disinformation.
In this case, the same uproar that we have seen at Facebook and Twitter will soon turn to Youtube.

Game Changer- But Not in a Good Way

Earlier this year, PBS took a closer look at deepfake technology.

As Hany Farid, digital forensic expert notes:
You don't have to know how to program in Python. none of that matters you pay someone twenty bucks and they'll create the fake for you. That's a bit of a game changer.
By studying Putin's disinformation war in 2016 as a model, we can see how easily deepfakes could be a highly effective tool against American voters.  
It would look something like this: 
  1. Production of the deep fake video- something plausible, emotionally shocking. 
  2. Pushing of the video, ensuring it goes viral on social media 
  3. Bogus outrage and support from zombie accounts on Youtube and other sites.
  4. The faked video becomes a news story and is reported by outlets like Fox News. 
  5.  Even after the video is proved to be a fake, it will still be believed by some. 
For all the good things it did, certain aspects of the #metoo movement- particularly, the rush to judgment- strengthens the power of deepfake wreak havoc on our elections. Based on allegations alone, the accused were judged on social media and promptly dispatched. Thoughtful deliberations took a back seat to immediate action authorized by zero tolerance.
Now, try to imagine an emotional allegation coupled with video evidence.  

As the Bloomberg piece observes, the potential for disruption works in reverse as well. When the public can no longer believe what they see, then deepfake technology will also render unadulterated video evidence worthless.   
That would be extremely good news for Trump if and when the infamous pee tape ever emerges.