Re­main vig­i­lant for deep­fake and ‘dumb­fake’ videos

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News - By BEATRICE DUPUY and BAR­BARA OR­TU­TAY

So­phis­ti­cated phony videos — called deep­fakes — have at­tracted plenty of at­ten­tion as a pos­si­ble threat to elec­tion in­tegrity. But a big­ger prob­lem for the 2020 U.S. pres­i­den­tial con­test may be “dumb­fakes” — sim­pler and more eas­ily un­masked bo­gus videos that are easy and of­ten cheap to pro­duce.

Un­like deep­fakes, which re­quire so­phis­ti­cated ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, au­dio ma­nip­u­la­tion and fa­cial map­ping tech­nol­ogy, dumb­fakes can be made sim­ply by vary­ing the speed of video or se­lec­tive edit­ing. They are eas­ier to cre­ate and can be con­vinc­ing to an un­sus­pect­ing viewer, which makes them a much more im­me­di­ate worry.

A slowed-down video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that made her ap­pear im­paired gar­nered more than 2 mil­lion views on Face­book in May. In No­vem­ber, then-White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders tweeted a sped-up video of CNN re­porter Jim Acosta that made him look more ag­gres­sive than he was dur­ing an ex­change with an in­tern. Her post re­ceived thou­sands of retweets.

The fact that th­ese videos are made so eas­ily and then widely shared across so­cial me­dia plat­forms does not bode well for 2020, said Hany Farid, a dig­i­tal foren­sics ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

“The clock is tick­ing,” Farid said. “The Nancy Pelosi video was a ca­nary in a coal mine.”

So­cial me­dia com­pa­nies don’t have clear-cut poli­cies ban­ning fake videos, in part be­cause they don’t want to be in the po­si­tion of de­cid­ing whether some­thing is satire or in­tended to mis­lead peo­ple — or both. Do­ing so could also open them to charges of cen­sor­ship or po­lit­i­cal bias.

Face­book, how­ever, will “down­rank” false or mis­lead­ing posts — in­clud­ing videos — so that fewer peo­ple will see them. Such ma­te­rial will also be paired with fact checks pro­duced by out­side or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing The As­so­ci­ated Press.

There are also vast gray ar­eas de­pend­ing on po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or your sense of hu­mor.

One so­cial me­dia user who calls him­self Paul Lee Ticks— a play on the word “pol­i­tics”— of­ten makes fabri­cated videos, mostly of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. In one of his most re­cent video ed­its, he added a “con­cen­tra­tion camps” sign to the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel & Tower in Chicago.

An­other so­cial me­dia user who goes by the han­dle Carpe Donk­tum makes edited videos in sup­port of the pres­i­dent. Fol­low­ing Trump’s June com­ments that Joe Bi­den ap­peared slow, Carpe Donk­tum slowed down video footage of Bi­den and spliced two clips, mak­ing the former vice pres­i­dent ap­pear to say some­thing he did not.

Trump of­ten retweets Carpe Donk­tum and last week he met the pres­i­dent in per­son dur­ing the White House’s “so­cial me­dia sum­mit” fea­tur­ing con­ser­va­tives. Carpe Donk­tum says he makes par­ody videos and dis­putes the no­tion that his videos are “doc­tored” be­cause their in­tent is satir­i­cal and the ma­nip­u­la­tions ob­vi­ous.

“Th­ese are memes and have been on the in­ter­net since the in­ter­net’s in­cep­tion,” he said.

Both Paul Lee Ticks and Carpe Donk­tum, who spoke to the AP on the con­di­tion of anonymity due to fear of threats and ha­rass­ment, started off mak­ing videos that were more sim­plis­tic and com­i­cal. But their videos have be­come more so­phis­ti­cated, blur­ring the line be­tween what is real and fake in a more con­vinc­ing way for an au­di­ence that is un­sus­pect­ing or un­fa­mil­iar with their comedic style.

Con­cern about th­ese videos is grow­ing among ex­perts, politi­cians and the gen­eral pub­lic.

Dur­ing a House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing on June 13, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said the Pelosi video rep­re­sents the scale of the prob­lem ahead. Ac­cord­ing to a June Pew Re­search Cen­ter study , 63% of Amer­i­cans sur­veyed about made-up news and in­for­ma­tion said that videos and im­ages al­tered to mis­lead the pub­lic cre­ate a great deal of con­fu­sion around the facts of cur­rent is­sues.

Other ma­nip­u­la­tions are equally crude, yet more sub­tle. Some fake videos, for in­stance, mis­la­bel au­then­tic his­tor­i­cal footage of pub­lic un­rest or po­lice ac­tiv­ity with in­cor­rect dates or lo­ca­tions to falsely sug­gest they de­pict break­ing news.

“Dis­in­for­ma­tion is so pow­er­ful in our lev­els of po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion,” said Ohio State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Erik Nis­bet, who co-au­thored a study in 2018 that found fake news may have con­trib­uted to Trump’s 2016 win. “Peo­ple are an­gry, wor­ried and anx­ious. They are more vul­ner­a­ble to mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion that val­i­dates their feel­ings.”

De­mo­graph­ics also play a role. Cliff Lampe, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, said older gen­er­a­tions that were raised on mass me­dia “tend to trust video more.” A study pub­lished in the Sci­ence Ad­vances jour­nal in Jan­uary found that peo­ple over 65 and ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive were more likely to share false in­for­ma­tion.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Hany Farid, a dig­i­tal foren­sics ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, ges­tures as he views video clips in his of­fice. Dumb fakes, shal­low fakes and cheap fakes, ex­perts are still un­de­cided on how to label the poorly made ma­nip­u­lated videos be­ing viewed mil­lions of times and even spread by high-rank­ing politi­cians.

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