Faked Videos The Next Challenge To Democracy

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Faked Videos The Next Challenge To Democracy


by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


"Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Benjamin Franklin

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s words are too forgiving in this digital age. It is getting to the point where we can’t trust much of what we read, what hear, or what we see. And it is going to get worse.

Trouble is we have to have faith in someone to bring us the truth so that we can make informed decisions about the quality of those who would lead us.

We need trustworthy information to make decisions about important policy decisions: Is climate change real? Should we go to war with North Korea? Do immigrants reduce wages for citizens? Will millions lose health coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed?

We need information that we can trust at the state level and local level as well.

But politicians, political parties, special interest groups, and radical individuals already manipulate information so much that it is hard to know the truth. The misinformation machine took another leap this past election cycle as some of these same players worked to create “fake news” stories.

Fake news, a term we are all getting bombarded with these days, is created with the dual intention of fooling you into believing it is credible, and by doing so, mislead you about reality. It works. It gets deeply planted in the brains of people who want to believe it. It is repeated to others grasping for dirt against the opposition and cement for the foundation of their beliefs.

We know words can be manipulated. We know that photos can be doctored to tell a lie. We know that fake news is proliferating on the internet.

 “Here is the real bad news: You ain’t seen nothing yet,” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said on his Sunday morning Global Public Square (GPS) program.

He then went on to talk about three researchers working at the University of Washington who used computer technology to produce a fake video of former President Barack Obama giving an address. Using what they called a computerized neural net study they had a computer view 17 hours of Obama speaking at various times about variety of topics in different places learning how his mouth moved with the words he spoke.

The computer then learned to shape his mouth to voice the words they wanted him to say on a screen. The video is so realistic that most people don’t have a clue what they are watching has been fabricated. You have Obama’s authentic voice, his mannerisms while speaking, and his words synced to his lip movements. The researchers can delete words, add words, or re-arrange sentences, to change the meaning of what was said.

In 2016, a group used actors mimicking politicians’ mannerisms and lip movements to create fake videos of them speaking where it was nearly impossible to detect they were not real.

What we know for certain is that this technology is going to rapidly get much better. What we also know is that it will all too quickly get into the hands of those with specific agendas and no ethics to stop them in pursuit of their goals.

Imagine how campaigns and special interests will use this technology to sew disinformation that tears down respected individuals, companies and politicians. “Character assassination” will take on a whole new, far more sadistic and ruthless meaning. Imagine how a popular leader fighting for justice, such as Martin Luther King, could be brought down by fake video. What would the impact have been on the civil rights movement?

Researchers have shown that when trusted news organizations try to set the record straight, they just reinforce the wrong information in people’s minds. They draw more attention to what is wrong. We also know that false information lives on and on even after it has been debunked continuing to influence people’s beliefs.

The very news sources that President Donald Trump now derides and demeans will attain a far more important role in informing citizens as the ability to manipulate the truth through fake videos gains ground. CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and PBS provide news that is deeply researched, vetted by editors, and only goes to press when confirmed by multiple sources. When reporters get it wrong through sloppy work they get fired.

We want and need trusted news organizations. They are the vital foundation of an informed citizenry. Their stories unmask lies, crimes, and manipulation that would steer us wrong.

Trump demeans the news organizations when they call him on his lies. He is trying to undermine trust in the nation’s press at the very time when we citizens have to have faith in it.

We certainly don’t ask people to have blind faith in what we would call the mainstream media – traditional newspapers, television stations and radio stations – report. Check out the facts behind their reporting. Call them when on it if they do in fact get something wrong.

What we do know is that the nation’s press gets the story right most of the time. When politicians, Wall Street executives, and others howl at the press it is because they have been caught doing something illegal or unethical. In tearing down the press they hope to distract and discredit the stories about themselves – they seek to lie to cover their wrongdoing.

Too many people today have developed the mindset of, “All I know is that every thing you know is wrong.” Democracy can’t survive that attitude. Citizens can either be dupes for the politicians, hedge fund tycoons, and crooks or they can inform themselves through reading and watching the proven, trusted news source

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