Beyond the deepfake theory
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.