Most of the focus on “deep fakes” to date has centered on the impact of falsified video of politicians and public figures like celebrities. Yet, in our era of “fake news” and foreign influence, a far more dangerous trend we are likely to see is the rise of “falsified newscasts” in which large television news stations like CNN and BBC are subjected to the “deep fake” treatment, with their anchors made to say false statements that could even lead to mass panic. How might we combat this?
Politicians don’t typically need AI algorithms to make them say stupid things. A falsified video circulating of an elected official making an off-the-cuff remark could certainly be harmful and sway an election, but at the same time, the public has become so inured to their representatives uttering questionable remarks that it remains to be seen just how much of an impact a “deep fake” would have on many government officials.
Journalists and newscasters, on the other hand, are an area that has been far less discussed.
What happens when a CNN or BBC newscaster is subjected to the same treatment?
Fake news and foreign influence peddlers already create fake websites that look identical to the real websites of major news outlets and share falsified screen captures of tweets purporting to be statements from recognized journalists and their outlets. What happens when this forgery reaches the realm of video?
Imagine a livestream from a social media account that looks very much like CNN or BBC’s official account and depicts one of their usual newscasters in their usual studio discussing the day’s news. Suddenly the livestream switches to breaking news that there has been a major cyberattack that will cause the banking industry to collapse within hours but that the banks have been ordered to deny that anything is wrong. Within short order this fake news could become very real as citizens rush to the bank to withdraw funds.
Alternatively, a deep fake “livestream” could announce a major terror attack is underway and to look for anyone dressed a certain way or with a certain kind of backpack and that the persons are carrying shrapnel bombs in their bags and are intending to detonate them in crowded places. It is not hard to imagine violent and tragic repercussions.
Brief clips of newscasters announcing important news are a staple on social media. Today most of those clips are real, despite potentially being edited in misleading ways.
What happens when social media is flooded with fake news clips?
False news clips could be especially harmful for the credibility of news outlets, with past clips modified to make outrageous claims that are then used to call into question the neutrality or competence of major news stations
It is almost a certainty that deep fakes will come for the television news industry. How might we protect against them?
Perhaps the simplest way of combatting such falsehoods is to compare them against known trusted archives like the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive. Using interfaces like GDELT’s Television Explorer, it would be relatively straightforward to keyword search for the transcript of a given news clip to confirm whether it indeed matches the Archive’s record of that broadcast.
Video clips whose transcripts do not appear to match anything found in the Archive’s records could be flagged as suspect, while those that do match could be tied directly to the actual moment in the original broadcast, allowing users to see it in context and understand whether any edits that were made to the clip removed important context that would change its meaning.
Of course, this won’t stop deep fakes purporting to capture journalists in off-air moments of candor but will at least address the question of falsified newscasts.
Putting this all together, it is only a matter of time before “deep fakes” target journalists and newscasters, raising entirely new concerns over trust in journalism at the worst possible time. Yet, at least for the world of broadcast journalism and newscasts, simple keyword searches against known trusted archives like the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive would dramatically curb such forgeries, as well as providing critical context even to legitimate clips. In the end, it is likely that no aspect of society will be immune from “deep fakes.”