Be­yond the deep­fake the­ory

Sunday Trust - - VIEW POINT - Tun­[email protected]­ with Tunde Asaju

It was in­ter­est­ing read­ing Dr Ibra­heem Dooba’s piece ti­tled Gan­duje: the video, the sci­ence and the law. The au­thor wanted to draw our at­ten­tion to the fact that even seem­ingly con­vinc­ing video can be doc­tored. It was pub­lished while al­le­ga­tions of graft was be­ing laid against a state ex­ec­u­tive, one which in other climes, would have re­quired res­ig­na­tion prior to proof of in­no­cence. Such res­ig­na­tions are un­com­mon in Naija, where mo­ral­ity is in the eye of the be­holder.

No­body who has watched a movie, seen props or heard news­casts would doubt that im­ages could be doc­tored. Man has as­sumed the func­tion of his maker, vir­tu­ally able to call any­thing imag­in­able into re­al­ity.

When Ge­orge Or­well wrote 1984, he was be­ing clair­voy­ant. Within the space of five decades mankind has sur­passed Or­well’s imag­i­na­tion. Not only was Turkey able to mon­i­tor Ja­maal Khas­soggi walk­ing to his death, it claims to have sounds from his ex­e­cu­tion. That is tech­nol­ogy. The Brits un­masked the iden­ti­ties of the Rus­sians who poi­soned the Skri­pals.

In 2018, the gad­gets in our pock­ets mon­i­tor our move­ments even when switched off. Crèche mon­i­tor cam­eras have been turned into spy­cams just like our tele­vi­sion sets. We live in in­ter­est­ing times. The sup­posed vaults of se­crecy we have built around our­selves are so vul­ner­a­ble they are mal­leable to do the ex­act op­po­site, which is ex­pose, our se­crets.

Deep­fake is not new. Al­go­rithms have al­ways ex­isted to al­ter voice, blur vi­sion etc. The first ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, AI news­caster made its de­but this month in China. The apps in the AI su­per­high­way would wow even their cre­ators. Tech­nol­ogy has been used to cre­ate the il­lu­sion of re­al­ity for decades in stu­dios. Lip-synch­ing gad­gets have been used to make movies shot in one lan­guage avail­able in every other de­sired lan­guage. The only dif­fer­ence is that the tech­nol­ogy is avail­able in the app-store or can be coded by geeks.

Dr Dooba’s ar­ti­cle fails to es­tab­lish a mo­tive for its prob­a­ble use in the cir­cu­lated videos. One ba­sic root for the es­tab­lish­ment of guilt in crim­i­nal law is mens rea, aka crim­i­nal in­ten­tion. What would be the mo­tive for us­ing deep­fake against a gover­nor in Kano who is a loyal mem­ber of the rul­ing elite and the party in power? What would be the mo­tive of the pub­lish­ers of the videos in ques­tion by the par­ties now served court sum­mons?

The Kano State House of As­sem­bly went cold turkey on its own in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter invit­ing the pub­lisher to tes­tify. It stopped the al­leged bribe givers be­fore they could give ev­i­dence be­fore the in­quest. The big ques­tion is why? As a jour­nal­ist and pub­lic re­la­tions ex­pert, hav­ing spo­ken to my client, I would ad­vise him to let the in­quest reach its fi­nal con­clu­sion. The client’s in­no­cence would have in­creased the court’s sym­pa­thy in grant­ing a mon­u­men­tal re­prieve. In my lay view, Gan­duje’s lawyers headed for the courts pray­ing for or­ders to stop fur­ther cir­cu­la­tion of the videos.

Both Jaa­far Jaa­far and Dr Dooba are friends on so­cial me­dia. Dooba con­fessed in Face­book post­script that he re­ceived a call from an of­fi­cial “from Gov­ern­ment House Kano” of­fer­ing to set up a meet­ing “with Oga so that he could show ap­pre­ci­a­tion.” He re­jected the of­fer on the grounds that “I was just do­ing my work, which is writ­ing,” and ended the con­ver­sa­tion.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari without brief­ing from his anti-cor­rup­tion agents called the gover­nor ‘a re­spon­si­ble man’. Kwankwaso the man who presided over his 2015 swing votes he de­scribed as ‘cor­rupt’ without a scin­tilla of proof.

We may never get an­swers to so many ques­tions with a cour­tis­sued gag or­der. The last glim­mer of hope is whether in de­ter­min­ing the sub­stan­tive case be­fore it, the court asks ques­tions on proof of the man in the orig­i­nal video. If that hap­pens, the de­fen­dant could sub­poena the con­trac­tors who, we are told were ready to give ev­i­dence. This is why this case should be of in­ter­est to the Nige­ria Union of Jour­nal­ists, NUJ, the Guild of Ed­i­tors, GE and other me­dia groups and own­ers. The very right of the ci­ti­zenry to be in­formed is at stake. So is the hon­our and in­tegrity of jour­nal­ism as a pro­fes­sion.

In the era of fake news, dis­cern­ing minds know that truth usu­ally hides some­where between of­fi­cialese, fake news and al­ter­na­tive fact. When elected of­fi­cials know that they could plead deep­fake or sim­i­lar soft­ware as de­fence against malfea­sance, truth, jour­nal­ism and jus­tice is in trou­ble and jour­nal­ism is per­ma­nently dam­aged. The Saudis would get away with the cold-blooded mur­der of Ja­maal Khas­soggi. Cit­i­zen No. 3 would deny his own voice in that noc­tur­nal tape in which he de­tailed his angst against his for­mer APC friends.

Jour­nal­ism has al­ways used voice or image al­ter­ing tech­nol­ogy to pro­tect the iden­tity of peo­ple with a loud caveat. Our pro­fes­sion will be doomed if and when tech­nol­ogy be­comes the fi­nal plea against crimes, crim­i­nal­ity and the abuse of trust by pub­lic of­fi­cials.

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