Late as it may be, the Book of Deepfake has finally been written: The Reality Game by Samuel Woolley. The content of the book, as well as its name, is reminiscent of the Game of Thrones. The central theme is the same, even if they are products of two completely different categories. Both tell the story of how a person’s ego can drag their intelligence to do inconceivable things when it comes to humans and authority. What they use to do this is insignificant—be it a crown or a sword, or artificial intelligence or an algorithm. Humanity’s struggle for power and authority always includes lying, cheating, and intrigue, whether in a fictional dystopian world or in our era of technology.
Investment and operation costs have risen with an increasing price tag on technology and human resources in the media’s branding process. Thus, as we attempted to explain in our previous article, press outlets have become more dependent upon advertising while the ownership of other press organizations has moved towards giant capital groups with other investments. In the process, big capital and governments have gained more leverage in the news and social commentaries that directly affect the advertising revenues of the publications and the return-on-investment for the owners throughout the world, including Europe and the United States.
First impartiality, then righteousness was compromised. A war of disinformation and perception management has emerged. The common perception, called public opinion, has become more open to intervention.
Disinformation-based propaganda war
The internet—now the fifth power in democracy—and the social media, an integral part of it, offer a suitable stage for disinformation-based propaganda efforts because their set-up allows for viral dissemination. The efforts to blunt the perception of the truth by creating and spreading fake truths have assumed a more plausible shape with the help of AI, particularly deepfake. The threat of a highly destructive and systematic attack has surged against the future of social and political life. This turned the direction of cyber-attacks towards the legislative, executive, judicial powers, and the press to disrupt the separation of powers between them. In the end, there came a cyber front, where never-ending great battles would be fought in both domestic and foreign policies.
It all started before Trump’s presidential election
Samuel Woolley’s 2020 book The Reality Game says that deepfake is an outcome, not a reason, and a means, not a purpose. This book on deepfake stresses that its real goal is to create an infrastructure of technological manipulation that would make it impossible to find truth through online resources and dissemination tools. It explains the battle to acquire power in order to steer public opinion by nullifying the truth with the infrastructure of “lie, cheat, and intrigue” created by artificial intelligence.
The Reality Game is not Samuel Woolley’s first warning about democracy in the online world. He is the founding partner of the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford and the founding director of the Digital Intelligence Laboratory at the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. In 2013, along with Philip N. Howard from Washington University and other colleagues, he tried to draw the attention of the online community to computational-propaganda attempts. However, the warnings were not enough to prevent the cyber disinformation attacks that marred the 2016 US presidential election. In promoting his new book, Samuel Woolley said that their research before the election determined that algorithms and automation were playing a huge role in spreading the propaganda. Fake accounts disseminated the message to wider audiences. “Computational Propaganda is the use of automation and algorithms to manipulate public opinion online,” remarked Woolley. These messages were spread by using bots to prioritize them with trending algorithms on Twitter and Facebook.
Another fundamental purpose: tricking the journalists
Samuel Woolley points out that, in their essence, computational propaganda and traditional media are connected. “Our research,” said Woolley, “focused on the path that propaganda follows on the social media through the use of automation and algorithms.” He also claimed that these propaganda campaigns aimed to trick journalists into spreading fabricated stories, especially prior to 2016 and before they had become shrewder about the concept of fake news. According to Woolley, in terms of computational propaganda, journalists in the traditional media had to struggle with examining massive amounts of data to corroborate the authenticity of the stories and confirm whether a story was fake or not. This task is more exhausting in the digital era.
“One of my expectations is journalists to be able to deal with issues of Computational Propaganda as they are incredibly important to the solution,” said Woolley. He explained that he wrote The Reality Game mostly to provide solutions for journalists. Woolley believes that the resurgent fact-checking by AP and other media outlets is insufficient as it is. Research shows that simple fact-checking about a false story does not work. He claims that the desire for objectivity and getting clicks has degraded the relationship between journalists and communities. This is something that journalists have to rebuild.
Individual targeting with geo-fencing
As part of computational propaganda campaigns, “individual targeting” utilizes geo-fencing by using machine learning with the data gathered over social media and mobile phone applications. Woolley explained in his book that hundreds of people are chosen as individual targets of disinformation in many countries. He said, “In order to capture these initiatives, we need technology experts who genuinely understand these systems and work for the good of the public.” He emphasized that Independent Expenditure-only Political Action Committees (Super-PACs) that collect legal funds for their candidates and campaign managers could purchase information from third-party content creators about the applications people use, as well as where and when they use them. “The more effectively campaigners combine voters’ decoded behavioral data with location data for computationally enhanced communication over social media, the more manipulative they will be,” said Woolley.
He points to technologies, such as artificial intelligence, AI-developed deepfake videos, and Google Assistant, which can mimic a human’s voice and make fake phone calls. He expressed concern about their implications for polling or political robocalling. He warns, “We should thoughtfully design our technology and allocate more resources in order not to sacrifice human rights and democracy to technology.”
Octopus Publishing Group, the publisher of The Reality Game, describes the book as follows:
“Thoroughly researched and intriguingly written book explains the profound effect of new technologies on our lives. Each new innovation that comes without respect for its consequences pushes us further into this digital dystopia. But Woolley doesn’t despair. Instead, he reminds us that this is a new culture of innovation built on accountability and transparency. It shows us how to use our new tools not to control but to empower people.”
What can we say? We long for the days when technology and the future promise humanity a utopia once again.