The spread of manipulated or “deepfake” videos could create a nightmarish scenario for the 2020 presidential election as candidates and the media struggle to separate fact from fiction, a group of researchers warned Thursday.
Deepfake videos are phony, computer-generated images that look realistic but depict people doing or saying things they did not, and it could lead to a surge in fake news ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Two recent high-profile doctored videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg generated millions in views, highlighting the rise in forged videos.
In a hearing Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee, University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron said the videos are becoming more advanced, bearing “explosive implications.”
“Under assault will be reputations, political discourse, elections, journalism, national security and truth as the foundation of democracy,” she said.
In one salacious hypothetical, Ms. Citron cautioned that a deep fake pornographic image of a company CEO on the eve of an initial public offering could cause havoc.
The video could “upend the IPO, the market will respond and fall faster than we can debunk it,” she said.
Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Institute said Russia and China will be at the forefront of a disinflation campaign and deepfakes could be one of their tools aimed at “subverting democracy.”
“These two countries along with other authoritarian adversaries and their proxies will likely use deep fakes as part of disinformation campaigns seeking to… distort the reality of American audiences and the audiences of American allies.”
Mr. Watts urged the government to partner with social media companies to prevent the proliferation of doctored videos.
David Doermann, director of the University of Buffalo’s Artificial Intelligence Institute, agreed. He called on the media and social media to delay posting videos until they can be verified.
“News does it with live types of delays, there’s no reason why things have to be instantaneous, social media should instill these kinds of things to a delay,” he said.
Deepfake technology is still in the early stages, according to the experts, making the videos easier to spot because of their clunky appearance.
Ms. Citron called on political campaigns to publicly commit to not share deep fake videos and even report any online misinformation.
All of the experts warned that as deepfakes grow, its impact on society could be corrosive. They said that could hurt the media most of all.
Mr. Watts said that the proliferation of such videos will likely widen the public mistrust of journalists.
“If over time they can’t tell fact from fiction, they’ll believe everything or nothing at all,” said he said.
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