Election season has begun and with it, a nightmare for political candidates is just starting to take flight. I’m talking about deepfake videos, you know, those videos that if done professionally, it’s impossible to determine if the person recorded talking or doing any activity in a video, is actually the real person doing it.
I was invited by Despierta America, Univision’s national morning show, to do a deep dive and explain deepfake videos to the public alongside their reporter Marcela Sarmiento.
We created a quick deepfake video using a readily available online platform with just a few keystrokes. We then took a publicly available video from Nobel-price-winner Malala Yousafzai and merged it with a quick video we took of the reporter here in our office. The results? We placed the reporter’s eyes, nose and mouth onto her face. I have to confess; it looks a little weird, but we didn’t spend much time or try very hard. We also didn’t do any audio substitution or tweaking of any kind, just uploaded the master video of the subject to mask another video and that was it.
The point was made easily. With little effort, minimum graphics and video knowledge, anybody can create a deepfake video for anyone that can incriminate, discredit and much worse, rapidly propagate false information.
The Deepfake phenomenon is pretty concerning for society overall, especially now that the election cycle has started. Imagine watching a video of a political candidate saying something inappropriate like a racial slur or taking a radical position that might offend their followers. Even if later determined to be a fake, the damage to their reputation is already done.
We live in an era of synthetic media where now videos can be weaponized and quickly propagated. In some cases, even a professional could not differentiate between a deepfake video and a real one. Recently, an artist uploaded a deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg that honestly doesn’t look that real, but he did it to prove a point. Facebook has decided that for now, it’s not going to remove deepfake videos but I think that’s a decision they’ll soon regret.
I predict that politicians will soon take a stand and pass a law that prohibits or curtails the creation of these videos, since it affects them directly. Even with that, you can’t regulate a foreign power from weaponizing these videos. You think the 2016 election had a lot of fake news and foreign manipulation? Get ready, this next one is going to be for the books.
Changing videos and manipulating them in these ways is definitely not a new thing, what changes with deepfake videos is that the threshold has been lowered. Before, it would take a Hollywood studio or a company with vast resources to create something like this. Now, you don’t even need a powerful computer to do it since it can be done by leveraging the graphic processing power of computers in the cloud.
This is a brave new era. Thanks to advanced audio editing, for many years now, you can’t believe what you hear. Now, thanks to deepfake videos and synthetic media, you can’t believe what you see either, at least not on the internet.