“Deep fake” videos pose a serious threat to the 2020 election

“Deep fake” videos pose a serious threat to the 2020 election

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Election officials and cybersecurity experts are preparing to address a new and more sophisticated method of spreading disinformation ahead of the 2020 election: "deep fake" videos, which are becoming increasingly harder to detect.

The story: The government, as well as technology and AI experts, have warned about the emergence of deep fake videos as the software to make such videos is becoming increasingly available.

AI experts just unveiled a new plan to combat this threat in the form of a scanning tool developed by UC Berkeley and the U.S. military. The software will be provided to journalists, political operatives, and presidential campaigns to help them detect potential fake videos.

“We have to get serious about this,” said UC Berkeley computer science professor Hany Farid, who has been working with the San Francisco-based nonprofit the AI Foundation on a method to tackle this issue. “Given what we have already seen with interference, it does not take a stretch of imagination to see how easy it would be,” he added. “There is real power in video imagery.”

Lindsay Gorman, a member of the bipartisan group Alliance for Securing Democracy, said: “Not even six months ago this was something available only to people with some level of sophistication,” adding that the technology to make doctored videos is “available to almost everyone.”

“The deep-fakes problem is expanding. There is no reason to think they won’t be used in this election.”

This comes as social media networks are also facing increased pressure to crack down on fake political videos. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently announced a controversial decision to ban all political ad campaigns – fake or not – from its platform. Facebook has been working on a way to detect fake videos, but the company has come under fire for still considering whether to remove, or simply flag deceptive videos. Google has been cooperating with academics to come up with a solution to the issue as well, according to the Los Angeles Times.

States are also considering laws that would crack down on fakes – California approved a law to outlaw the spread of doctored videos that “would falsely appear to a reasonable person to be authentic.”

One of the early videos that alerted the general public to deep fakes was of President Obama saying things he never said in real life. Recently, a doctored video featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to be drunk. It quickly went viral before it was shown to be fake. Unlike the Obama video, the Pelosi one was poorly edited and therefore easily detectable.

Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who studies the fake videos, said: “The technology to detect deep fakes is lagging behind. A huge amount of money has been put forward to try to crack this nut."

"With these big commercial opportunities come significant risks,” said AI Foundation CEO Lars Buttler. “We are focusing half of our energy on prevention/detection, in anticipation of what could go wrong.”

“There is a real danger that video manipulation tools are getting so good that normal people on the street won’t be able to tell anymore what happened,” Buttler added. “We face the risk that at some point we will no longer be able to agree what objective reality is.”

But Buttler argues that there's something "as unique as a fingerprint" that can give away deceptive videos — the manner in which someone speaks.

“Every person has a correlation between what they say and how they act otherwise,” Buttler said. “It is almost as unique as a fingerprint. If they are out of sync, it is a telltale sign. You can determine a mathematical correlation.”

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