The sinister rise of deepfake videos

New frontiers: Twitter has pledged to remove deepfake content and block its publishers.

Will deepfakes destroy democracy? In a viral video, Mark Zuckerberg lays out his scheme for world domination using stolen data. But the footage isn’t real — it was created with AI technology.

“Imagine this for a second: one man with total control of billions of people’s stolen data; all their secrets, their lives, their futures.”

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, stares into the camera.

“I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.”

It’s a sinister message from the owner of a social network used by 2.4 billion people. But this video is not real. It’s a deepfake.

Deepfakes are produced with a technology called “deep learning”, which uses neural networks like those inside the human brain. Artificial intelligence (AI) programmes can be fed images of a person, and can then produce a video of almost anyone saying or doing anything.

The video of Zuckerberg is part of an installation called Spectre, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe.

It came just weeks after viral footage appeared to show US Democrat politician Nancy Pelosi slurring.

But sophisticated technology means that deepfakes are getting better, and harder to spot.

According to the World Economic Forum, deepfakes are increasingly going to “challenge our trust in reality”.

Broken reality?

Will deepfakes destroy democracy? They herald a future in which we can no longer trust our own eyes and ears — a future in which truth and reality are subjective, used by different tribes again each other. Debate and democracy are based on a shared understanding of the truth, even if our approaches differ. Our society is under threat.

Or are these fears hysterical? Doctored footage is nothing new. In the world of fake news, we already know to be sceptical of what we see online. They could even offer us a wake-up call to be more critical, and encourage the media to come up with new solutions to restore trust in the truth.

You Decide

  1. Are deepfakes a threat to democracy?


  1. Make a list of reliable news websites. Are there any you and your classmates disagree about?

Some People Say...

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it — but, in the end, there it is.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Deepfakes are videos that have been manipulated to show the subject saying or doing things that they never did.
What do we not know?
How common deepfakes may become and what the consequences will be.

Word Watch

Neural networks
These AI systems mimic the way that neurons in the human brain connect, which allows computers to “learn” like humans.
Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the US House of Representatives, which is one of the two chambers in Congress.
Over-the-top; uncontrollably emotional.

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