Fiction, fake news, and falseness are the basic building blocks of deepfakes. According to the perception of the online world, “the biggest cyberthreat to humanity” originates from this structure. Under the username “Deepfakes” on Reddit.com, the deepfake inventor, who produced a worldwide cyber danger brand, certainly wanted to do so. Producing fake truths by bending and twisting the truth with digital technology does not only result from the malice and obsession of a madman. When we look at the development of deepfakes over the last three years, it can easily be said that there is a more organized global vision behind it. To legitimize the development of deepfake R&D, many projects seem to be beneficial for humanity in different fields such as health, education, sports, art, and communication also supports this perception in one aspect. But the subject of this article is not to repeat the conspiracy theories discussed. We will only try to question the newest and ironic legitimacy trial of deepfakes:
Do deepfakes, which are produced with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) in digital audio, text, and video formats and is the common name for all lies, fraud, forgery, manipulation, and disinformation in the online world, reveal the hidden truths?
Are only criminals hiding?
It would be a mistake to think that criminals and attackers are hiding in order to avoid being exposed and caught in the free world where democracy and laws protect the individual’s rights and security. All over the world, because malefactors and criminals are often powerful and organized, people often hesitate to disclose them in public in case they themselves become the target of possible attacks. They have to hide their identities to be protected. Moreover, strong and dangerous attackers are not limited to illegal organizations such as the mafia or terrorist and espionage groups. In order not to expose unlawful or human rights violations or corruptions, influential politicians, business people, senior executives, religious leaders, civil political organizations, global companies, international organizations, and even crime-oriented structures in the public security and justice institutions all over the world use the weapon of violence. Brave and honest public officials, journalist s, opinion leaders, and officers of the courts are the first to fight them. Additionally, ordinary people who suffer due to their unfair and unlawful actions and who lose their freedom, assets, loved ones, or health, can also take them over. They can reveal the hidden crimes experienced and ensure that the criminals are caught. Those who expose crimes and criminals and who have the courage to bring them to judgment before the court must remain safe during and after this process. In order to do so, they need to hide their identity.
Will the brown-bag and hosiery be replaced by deepfake?
X generation and the generation before this one will remember quite well the crimes and corruption committed by the power groups revealed with confidential information and documents by witnesses on newspaper pages or news programs on TV screens. The witnesses who disclosed the criminals made statements by wearing a brown bag or hosiery over their heads in order not to be recognized. Later, as the technology developed, people tried to change the voices of the secret witnesses and to blur their faces with icing effects. Even national security and judicial authorities tried to protect those who disclosed powerful and dangerous criminals in important cases with secret witness protection programs. They tried to provide a new life with a different physical appearance and new identities through cosmetic surgery so that the secret witnesses would not be discovered. According to new developments, now there is no need for this. With deepfake technologies, the faces of secret witnesses can easi ly be changed digitally or even take on the appearance of someone who does not exist. Their voices can also be synthesized and made them unrecognizable. Thus, they will be able to disclose the facts and reveal the strongest and most dangerous criminals without revealing their identity.
Documentary with deepfake
The New York Times, one of the most famous and respected publishing companies of the United States, announced that “Deepfake Technology is entering the Documentary World” on July 1. The deepfake-aided documentary was about homosexuality. In it the western media with Hollywood seemed to go beyond defending human rights and started campaigning for them. According to information on Wikipedia, the American documentary producer David France, who is well known for his investigative journalism about the gay movement, has been the subject of two consecutive news stories on nytimes.com with his new documentary project.
The first story reported that David France’s new documentary on gays in Chechnya has started to be broadcasted, and the second story reported that deepfake technology was used in the documentary. The documentary started broadcasting on June 30 in HBO, one of the leading paid TV broadcasting groups in the United States, and it claimed that the traditionalist group in Chechnya ap plied social pressure and violence to gays and lesbians. In the documentary, they claimed that between 2017 and 2019 activist homosexuals in Russia were trying to smuggle gays out of this country in order to save these Chechens from the pressure they experienced.
Face interface with volunteer activist faces
The New Yorker journalist and film critic Joshua Rothkopf announced in the New York Times that digital manipulation was used to hide the identity of Chechen homosexuals in the documentary. According to the news, in the post-production of the documentary, advanced computer technology was used to change their faces. In interviews with the homosexuals who were put forward to hide in secret safe homes, it was stated that their faces were the faces of volunteer activists, changed by deepfake technologies.
The documentary’s visual effects were created by Ryan Laney, who has 30 years of Hollywood experience in movies such as “Harry Potter Secret Room.” He convinced the director to use deepfake. Laney, who argues that deep learning is the best solution to a documentary’s limited budget, secretly installed a deepfake editing package and worked offline to keep the faces secret. The volunteers who agreed to take part in the documentary were found by David France on Instagram and other social networks. The volunteers, consisting of activists whose sexual orientations are in the minority, came across the camera of producer Jonny Han, who worked as a face-catching specialist in the documentary for this deepfake operation.
The gray shades of deepfake
Professor Bill Nichols of San Francisco State University, known for his documentary expertise, said, “Our face, the core of our identity, is the most outstanding feature of our body. The absence of a real face evokes discomfort in most cases.” Nichols, however, leaves an open door for the documentary with deepfake, saying, “However, this documentary may represent a new kind of soft-mask definition that still allows complex emotional bonds while hiding the identity of a subject. It is a huge attempt and I think it works out.”
On the other hand, David France emphasizes that “it doesn’t change anything that people say and do. It allows my subjects to tell their own stories.” France also asks the real question that should be asked of himself: “Why should we still rely on a documentary that uses deepfake?” According to him, the dispute of ethics is valid for every documentary. In his own words, this is “a matter of trusting the process.” France defends his documentary for the use of deepfake, saying, “Every technology has two moral aspects. What our documentary proves is that it can be done properly.”
Online fake synthetic history hazard
The international community, particularly of Chechens, can decide to what extent the documentary “Welcome to Chechnya” reflects the facts. However, we think that the use of deepfake in the documentary is an ironic example of the moral contradictions of globalization that deepen with the advances in technology. Documentaries are one of the most ethically sensitive areas of journalism, for they are witnesses to history and events with people, knowledge, and documents. However, fake synthetic faces are now presented as a safe way to reveal and display the facts in documentaries. In the new digital regime, even those who testify to periods and events are falsified, and we should be concerned that the historical facts are distorted by obsessions such as racism and islamophobia by those who hold the technology and build an online fake synthetic digital history. Who can guarantee that we can hand down the facts for future generations?