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Editorial: Deepfake videos the latest threat

Editorial: Deepfake videos the latest threat

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If you think Russia’s ability to manipulate Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 election was concerning, brace yourself for the newest unorthodox technology to hit the internet. Deepfake videos have become today’s weapon of choice in online disinformation campaigns. These altered videos can easily be created using artificial intelligence (AI) by just about anyone capable of uploading a set of instructions and multiple images and audio of an individual to a computer program. The AI program quickly scans the pictures and clips and learns to mimic the person’s facial expressions, voice and speech patterns. From there, a fake video can be created of the individual saying whatever the designer wants.

The new technology has both political parties as well as the Department of Defense deeply concerned that altered videos could be widely used to spread disinformation — against political opponents and globally against the U.S. The House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on Thursday with AI researchers to discuss the dangerous impact of deepfakes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is in the middle of a four-year study to develop methods capable of identifying faked videos. But researchers admit they are outnumbered. Hany Farid, a computer science professor and digital forensics expert at the University of California at Berkeley told The Washington Post, “The number of people working on the video-synthesis side, as opposed to the detector side, is 100 to 1.”

We appreciate the federal government’s concern and action. It’s not hard to envision the amount of mischief realistically altered videos could create. But rather than wait for tools that will identify what’s real and what’s not, it seems to us that social media platforms could be doing more to prevent deepfakes from being posted in the first place. As it stands now, they don’t seem to be doing much. Last month on Facebook, a video was widely circulated of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been altered to make her appear drunk. Facebook declined to remove the video.

Last weekend, a manipulated video of Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was posted to Instagram (which is owned by Facebook). In the video, Zuckerberg appears to be saying, “Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures.” Whether the company will remove the deepfake video remains to be seen.

What, we wonder, is the endgame for the internet trolls who thrive on creating disinformation, distrust and chaos? At what point will their societal disruptions stop? The internet age was supposed to be one of enlightenment and knowledge, yet this graduation from employing PhotoShop images to creating deepfake videos strikes us as a sad commentary on the direction of humanity’s progress.

This is just one more reason to place your trust in an edited news medium.

— Robin Beres


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