October 22, 2019
I was watching a movie the other day. In this movie, the villain used a unique advanced technology to conjure up special effects with lifelike illusion. He used this gimmick to create a sense of real danger and manipulate people with it. He used this technology to even combat the main hero, but eventually like in all cliched good versus evil movie, the villain was defeated, and when he breathed his last, he departed with this final line: “People need something to believe in, and these days they will believe anything.”
Come to think of it, that line quoted by the villain was not some arbitrary thought process of that character, but it was a stark reflection of one of the biggest traits seen in masses: the propensity to believe anything.
Majority of people in India tend to fall for false information and fake news distributed on WhatsApp. A simple app -which is primarily used with an objective of facilitating messaging- has gained notoriety for facilitating dissemination of false information with a purpose of inflaming fear, inciting riots and pushing noxious political propaganda. Similarly, a simple visual editing programme such as Photoshop, which is used by professional advertisers to beautify the ads, is now used by fringe elements with diabolic interest to contort real information, present false knowledge and smear the image of conscientious social activists.
If you think that Photoshop and WhatsApp are bad enough for the public trust and harmony, then you have another think coming, and it’s called Deepfake.
So, what is deepfake?
Deepfake is an AI (Artificial Intelligence)-based technology that is used to produce or alter videos that present something that has never occurred. Significantly, this technology has been used to edit the faces of celebrities onto people in highly realistic video clips. So basically, it is your fake news what’s app forward on steroids. The concept of this technology is not quite new. If you are a fan of Hollywood flicks, you may have seen some not-so-recent movies which show currently older actor’s convincingly fake younger selves in few scenes, which, in the past, involved a process with laborious makeup or a younger look alike actor, but now all it takes is a visual effects technology that is almost similar to that of deepfake. If you go to YouTube and search for videos on this topic, you will find several clips of people who look and sound like someone else, especially celebrities, as a result of the said technology used in those footage. The availability of deepfake raises a major concern: if this technology could be used for amusement, then it could ultimately be used for malicious purpose, too.
How deepfake could lead to crisis in public trust?
The problem here hinges back to people’s tendency to believe anything that suits their disposition. The danger here is that people will take such videos at face value (just like the photoshopped images, fake articles, statements distributed through what’s app). The major concern that the critics of this technology have is that as this technology spreads, the ability to produce bogus yet supposedly credible video and audio content will come within the reach of larger hands of political, nonstate actors, and individuals. As a result, the ability to advance lies using hyper-realistic, fake evidence could become a norm because of people’s gullibility in not realizing how technology could be used in this information-sharing environment to spread falsehood.
What if it becomes the next big tool of misinformation?
To start with, one should prepare, not panic. One needs to understand now that merely seeing does not and should not mean believing.
With every growing tool that facilitates misinformation, there are also entities that have risen to combat the menace of false information. There are organizations, certified by International Fact Checking Networks, which engage in checking the veracity of information that is spread online. Entities like Alt News and BoomLive have played a pivotal role in debunking a slew of fake information by supporting their findings with corroborated facts. So, when one comes across information that dubiously calls for irrational action, you do have an option to verify that information’s authenticity. And on top of it, you can always report any kind of misinformation to concerned lawful authorities.
This is an era where we are witnessing unprecedented development in technology on daily basis. We might not be able to quell every technological tool that churns out misinformation, but we can certainly make sure that we do not take every so-called fact at face value just because we found it on the internet.