When The Darkness of Deepfake Descends, Will The Media Shed Light On The Facts?

In universal law, if a crime is “committed through the press,” the penalty is more severe. The reason is that the public responsibilities that journalism bears may be greater than the privileges it enjoys. With its reach, sphere of influence, and power in the level of perception, media outlets have certain responsibilities towards the public. When someone lies, he or she deceives only the person they speak to; however, the consequences of false news on the media have far-reaching implications. Disinformation could ruin a country’s economic or political future.

The media is always in deep waters because of the lies that exist throughout the world. Trust is always an issue among the readers, viewers, and audiences, even in the most developed Western societies. Even long-established and respected media organizations cannot escape suspicion surrounding the published news and distrust for false news.

Truth is more revered than the news.

News is sacred, but truth is even more revered. The right to protect the source of news in the name of media freedom may turn a journalist into a victim or an accomplice of false news, depending on how scrupulous they are when it comes to occupational ethics. When a journalist does not disclose his news source, society ends up being a casualty of false news. The journalist and the media outlet pay a price according to the law. However, society pays a much greater price that is difficult to gauge. Journalism is a race with time. Occasionally some information or an image may be such important news that verifying its source or its accuracy comprehensively could cause considerable delays and drawbacks.

Although media outlets are privileged institutions that provide the public with freedom of information, they are also commercial entities that seek to make a profit. In today’s media, revenue from advertising clients is much more than that from their readers, viewers, and subscribers. Consequently, media outlets and journalists are susceptible to commercial and political influence. Organizations that have economic and political clout regarding the profitability of the media outlet would surely leverage that power to manipulate the news. Meanwhile, the media could be coerced into distorting the facts at any time when faced with pressure and intimidation.

What if unrestrained power fans the deepfake fire?

With the online world encircling the real world in the internet-led information era, mass communication has become digitalized ahead of anything else. The flow of information and news has shifted from mass communication tools such as TV and radio to mobile and smart information devices. This has resulted in a higher rate of information consumption. Newspapers, magazines, TV and radio channels moved to internet publishing while having to face competition from social media, which has turned everyone into owners of the media. Thanks to the unbearable lightness on internet journalism, the media has evolved from a corporate structure to an individual structure. Social media has provided an unconstrained media outlet for people who previously merely read, listened to, and watched the news. 

It appears that our connection to reality is doomed to be severed as a result of the deep-learning ability of machines through artificial neural networks and developed algorithms by artificial intelligence (AI), which transcends human intelligence. Footsteps are getting ever louder for a world falling into chaos due to AI-developed synthetic media, for which cyber-security technologies have no solid solution. Deepfake technology has ingrained in our minds the belief that “we shouldn’t believe everything we see.” Once it becomes completely undetectable through fake synthetic technology, all of our communication and news sources will be nothing but a hayloft waiting to be reduced to ashes with just one spark.

Once the turmoil of deepfake lets the truth slip away from us, we may have to rely more heavily on the giant media outlets, which we accuse of holding the media power in their hands. We will need to put more trust in media corporations rather than the flock of unaccountable individual broadcasters once social media swarms with highly-plausible fake synthetic media targeting anyone from well-known politicians, artists, and athletes to opinion leaders, company executives, and ordinary citizens. 

Corporate media giants have managed to survive all kinds of competitive technologies so far. However, they know that when they become unable to withstand deepfake attacks, they will inevitably be reduced to an instrument of history’s biggest cyber-attack threat and head for a bitter end. When media bosses become a party to the crime of distorting the truth, they will have to face responsibility and pay the biggest price long before social media users and individual broadcasters. Thus, they are looking for ways to continue without getting blown up on the minefield of deepfake. To face their responsibility, they are seeking to collaborate on the common cause of “accurate reporting” with the social media giants that are destined to share the same faith with them. 

Free online training from Facebook and Reuters.

As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, Facebook is organizing a free online training session called “Avoiding the Deepfake Trap,” in collaboration with Reuters, which is the world’s largest news agency that provides multimedia news content to over 2,000 publishers in 128 countries. The course is aimed at journalists. Also, a training course in “Identifying and Tackling Manipulated Media” has been put together with financial support from Facebook and course materials by Reuters. The course provides information and methods that help journalists identify photos and videos that are manipulated to distort the truth around the world. Hazel Baker, the creator of the course, said that the objective is to help various news departments to understand what to look for. Baker stated that thirteen different news departments at Reuters have become experts in verifying visual media. “Ninety percent of manipulated media we see online is a real video taken out of context used to feed a different narrative. Sometimes it’s edited, but often it’s not. I think that’s quite an important starting point,” she explained.

Jess April, director of strategic partnerships and program management at Reuters, said the course was initially offered in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic, and there were plans to translate it into at least twelve more languages including German, Hebrew, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish. Anyone, including non-journalists, can take the free 45-minute course by visiting Reuters.com, Facebook is leading the field with the Deepfake Detection Challenge until the end of March, offering a $10-million prize to cyber-security developers to promote the development of deepfake identification tools. It also aims to raise awareness in 2020 by holding events and panels with Reuters.

Undoubtedly, deepfake is a dreadful threat not only for Facebook and Reuters but also for all media and social media networks that make up the global information and news network. None of these could weather the cost of global disinformation. The first crucial test is the US presidential elections in November. And time is running out.