The Rise of Fake

I don’t quite recall the first time I realised that it’s quite easy to mislead people. Believe it or not, it was pre-social media, or shall I say it was pre the social media that we know today. I had picked up a newspaper that happened to be in the house, I won’t name it but I’m sure you can imagine. As I casually turned the pages, words and pictures jumped out, catching my attention as I went. I’d stop and read a paragraph here and a paragraph there. Every so often two plus two no longer seemed to equal four. There were versions of the truth that were not true. As an adult I think we all know that there are variations of truth—a sort of gradient of truth. But you don’t need a university degree to know that there are no variations of facts, they are black and white, and in this instance they had been turned grey.

Misinformation has been around since the inception of communication, in modern times we tend to call it propaganda. It features heavily in our history books, whether it is the world wars or the Roman Empire—the original spin masters. But we are now, in an era or very fast moving and open access information, starting to lose some of the skills we used to easily dispense. Personally I put it down to apathy and the deluge.

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Let’s start with a light hearted example, this post on Instagram looks fun and harmless. Made by an account that is well known for jazzifying and sparkling up monuments around the world. It has since been reposted, or shall we say blatantly ripped off, dozens of times. Resulting in some of those posts travelling far and wide, the people liking and commenting appear to genuinely believe this is what the famous clock tower of Parliament looks like. It is an example of where people have let their guard down, begun to accept the seep of misinformation into their social networks, lives, politics, news. There's no harm, right?

Looking at a more sinister example, it is becoming easier and easier to doctor video. This "trend" has probably by-passed you so far, it is largely contained within the walls of Reddit and 4chan. But, it has begun to seep into our lives more and more, and it will be shockingly damaging. It is, in theory, no different to the onslaught of doctored images than the invention of the dark room or Photoshop brought around, and it is fair to say that people are generally bad at spotting a fake photo. The President of the United States hangs a doctored Time front cover in one of his golf clubs (of course he does). Is it harmless? Yes. Is it symptomatic? Yes.

But whilst we’re bad at spotting fake photos, we are often suspicious. We might take a second look, or just cast it off until we see a secondary source. But fake video? That’s a whole different story. The rise of Deep Fakes as they are known will overturn most of the social constructs we know today, it will become simple to create videos of politicians, celebrities, your school bully saying and doing things they haven’t. And it will be convincing. There will be tell tale signs, as there are with doctored photos, but as these fake videos rapidly spread around social media it’ll quickly spread into the consciousness of society, convincing the of things that are not true.

To indicate just how poor we are at spotting fake video, last week a video circulated of US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi purportedly speaking with a drunken slur. Simply a slowed down video or a legitimate concern? As videos comparing the original to this heavily circulated and doctored copy began to spread it was clear that this was amending of the simplest kind, but with impact of the highest magnitude. One version of the video with thousands comments and millions of views remains live on Facebook.

We cannot rely on social media or traditional media firms to weed this out and stop it—after all there are now variations of truth. So, what’s the solution?