Full Consequences of Fake Video Technology Remain to Be Seen – NBC Bay Area


Full Consequences of Fake Video Technology Remain to Be Seen – NBC Bay Area

We all recognize them: Lincoln standing for a portrait, Lenin addressing Russian soldiers, a woman crouched beside a student’s body on the ground at Kent State University in 1970. But did you know those canonized points-in-time were altered? 

Photo
manipulation has been around for almost as long as the technology itself, a
practice reserved for a few particularly-skilled individuals around the world.
But that is all changing with the use of machine learning in video production,
technology better known as deepfakes. Now, almost anyone can download the
computer code and programs required to create digitally-altered videos of
whoever, wherever or whatever they want. That
is, if you know where to look.

“I’ve
been thinking about these problems in my lab for about 20 years now,” said Hany
Farid an expert on digital authentication teaching at
UC Berkeley. “We have more and more examples of manipulated media being
used to disrupt democracies, sow civil unrest, revenge porn, spectacular
amounts of disinformation that lead to health crisis, and so on and so forth.”

NBC Bay
Area’s Investigative Unit is looking behind the screen to understand what
deepfake technology is and the threats it poses by diving into one of the more
prominent concerns: election interference. Along
the way it became apparent these fake videos have inflicted untold damage on targeted victims – who are predominantly women – and
have the potential to do much more.

“Whether
that is state sponsored, whether that is the campaigns themselves doing it,
whether that is trolls, whether that is just a bunch of teenagers in Macedonia
trying to just make a buck, we are seeing the injection of fake information
being used to disrupt elections,” Farid said. “And I think that we still have
not, probably, experienced the worst of that.”

Deepfake videos of political figures are already out there, but have largely been made for educational purposes: Nixon announcing a disaster on Apollo 11, President Barack Obama (voiced by director Jordan Peele) making questionable statements about the Trump administration, UK’s Prime Minister endorsing his Labour Party opponent Jeremy Corbyn.

The
videos are funny, but Farid poses a possibility: what happens when a deepfake
video is released in the days leading up to a highly divided election, handing
the presidency to one candidate before the broader public realizes they’ve been
duped.

“That’s
going to be the ball game,” said Farid, who is working on deepfake detection
methods and likens the process to an “arms race” between the researchers and
producers. The rapid evolution and spread of this technology took many by
surprise – a danger for some, an opportunity for others.

[VIDEO:
HOW IT’S MADE EXPLAINER]

That
situation is why Assemblymember Marc Berman
introduced a bill in early 2019 making it illegal for anyone to produce or
distribute altered media of candidates 60 days before an election with an
intent to deceive the public. It also provides legal mechanisms that could stop
the spread of altered political media and was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom
earlier this year. The law is one of the first of its kind in the county – something
Berman, who also chairs California’s election committee, said he is proud of.

“I do have a lot of concern, especially after what we saw in the
2016 elections and the disinformation campaign waged by bad actors,” Berman
said. “There are a lot of folks out there who are going to be interested in
trying to trick voters and influence elections here in California and the U.S.”

A
federal version of Berman’s bill is being floated around Washington D.C., but
concerns about the limitations of both pieces of legislation have already been
raised.

Experts
in the field of digital authentication, artificial intelligence and digital
rights say imposing a timeframe, like 60-days, isn’t much of a deterrence
considering the span and influence of social media.
It’s an industry, they say, that needs more transparency and
accountability than what is established by federal communications law.

First
Amendment experts raise a different issue: the law gives politicians an ability
to censor media they disagree with by claiming it’s fake. This concern, raised
by groups like the ACLU, is why the 60-day timeframe was added in, said Berman,
adding that he and his staff worked closely with
constitutional law scholars to finalize the bill, which was one of two he
introduced last year dedicated to addressing deepfake technology.

The other, an amendment to the state’s digital privacy laws,
provides clearer legal avenues for victims of deepfake, nonconsensual
pornography to stop the spread of the content and bring lawsuits against those
responsible. Gov. Newsome signed both bills this year.

Digital and women’s rights advocates say more states need to follow
California’s lead by offering similar avenues and protections for deepfake
victims. The production of deepfake adult content isn’t a novelty – it’s the
technology’s origin and is disproportionately impacting women and
underrepresented groups.

[VIDEO:
ORIGINS DIGITAL EXTRA]

It
all started with a reddit user, some machine-learning code publicly available
and the faces of famous female celebrities mapped into pornographic videos. But
from a small corner of the web, that Reddit user, who called himself Deepfake,
set a technology in motion that could threaten
social stability, economies and democracies around the world.

Those
issues are highly concerning for Farid, but there’s one thing worrying him
more: plausible deniability and the loss of a shared fact system. The problem
is best posed with a question: 

“What happens when we live in a world where any image, any video, any audio recording can be fake?” he asks. “Well then, nothing is really real anymore.”  

[VIDEO: FARID Q&A]



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