Fake News Remastered: The Impact of Technology
By Renato Opice Blum and Camila Rioja
Fake news is the buzzword of the moment. Specifically, in Brazil, the theme was one of the most relevant topics in the elections held this past October. With flashy titles and loaded with content aimed at triggering emotions, fake news are powerful weapons in today’s digital reality. Brazil has more than one functioning smartphone per inhabitant (approximately 220 million currently and counting), as estimated by a study conducted by a prestigious Brazilian university early 20181. Worldwide, a projection made by the Statista portal2 shows that smartphone users will reach over 2.87 billion by 2020. Thus, is somewhat intuitive how fast fake news can spread through social media and/or communication apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram.
Technologies’ role does not restrain itself to easing the dissemination and availability of fake news. The elaboration of fake news itself has gained more traction with a new world of possibilities allowed by topnotch apps. Once hearsay and allegations printed on news or tweeted away, fake news have gained the full spectrum of colors by means of pictures3, and have reached video images with near perfection. Versions of technologies that allow for the manipulation of images is available in social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram for fun purposes. You can choose from an array of animations to be placed onto your face and body such as ornaments, headpieces, animals’ features and even swap faces with friends.
The issue, nowadays, consists of the fact that anyone with basic knowledge can easily edit videos though readily available apps, inserting virtually anyone’s faces in any animation. The hype of videos manipulated with artificial intelligence reached alarming proportions on 2017 by means of a publication on Reddit. A user nicknamed “deepfakes” released its creation: a code that combines and superimposes images to near perfection. The actress Gal Gadot – well known for interpreting Wonder Woman — was subject to having her image used in a fake pornographic video. In a word where a picture is worth a thousand words, videos are jackpot. We now have fake news and its rather technological friend, the deepfake.
Jordan Peele, who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (2018), took part in a “friendly” fake video using Barack Obama for publicly announcing the dangers of this kind of technology4. It should be noted, however, that open-source libraries such as Keras and TensorFlow, highly sought after for the development of neural networks related programs, can be used both for deepfakes and for discovering patterns for the purposes of cancer diagnoses, for example. The problem, thus, is not the technology itself – but how to educate users and developers, and empower them to make the best decisions.
Identifying what is real and what is not is an extraneous task and will grow even more complicated as the technology progresses. The US government, through the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (“DARPA”), is funding efforts to spot deepfakes and AI-related issues, although reportedly aware of how intricate this battle can be5. The program was created to automate existing forensics tools but has recently turned its attention to AI-made forgery. Siwei Lyu, a researcher from the State University of New York at Albany (“SUNY”) gave an interview to the MIT Technology Review6 claiming that even the blink of an eye – considered hard to be credibly faked — can be faked by high quality algorithms. Aimed at the same dignified purpose of spotting fakes, DéjàVu7, a project by the Brazilian University of Campinas (“Unicamp”) collects data from reliable sources, such as major television stations and journalistic platforms and, by means of patterns, inference and analysis tries to assert the veracity of a content. Other tools like MediaBiasFactCheck8 and AdVerif.ai9 also aim at the same purpose.
In Brazil, sharing and posting fake news or deepfakes can, under certain circumstances, be understood as a crime under the applicable legislation – notably when the individual is aware that the information shared is fake or its content constitutes injury, for instance. Application providers such as Facebook and Google may be required, though judicial decisions, to withdraw improper content from the web. The damage levels caused by deepfakes are high and unquestionable, notwithstanding the applicable legal measures: truth decay, exploitation, sabotage and intimidation are among a vast array of possibilities. While the technology does not come in a shiny armor to save us from the technology itself, the role of the internet and social media user in avoiding the propagation of such context is more relevant than ever. Given the current scenario, however, it seems that the technology companies and developers have an even higher responsibility and interesting social role.
- M. Lima, “Brasil já tem mais de um smartphone ativo por habitante, diz estudo da FGV”. Available at:https://link.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,brasil-ja-tem-mais-de-um-smartphone-ativo-por-habitante-diz-estudo-da-fgv,70002275238 .
- “Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2014 to 2020”. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/330695/number-of-smartphone-users-worldwide/ .
- Even WhatsApp conversations can be easily faked with apps such as Fake Whats available at https://www.fakewhats.com/generator .
- BuzzFeedVideo available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=26&v=cQ54GDm1eL0 .
- W. Knight, “The US Military is Funding an Effort to Catch Deepfakes and Other AI Trickery”. Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611146/the-us-military-is-funding-an-effort-to-catch-deepfakes-and-other-ai-trickery/ .
- Available at: http://www.ic.unicamp.br/~dejavu/ .
- Available at: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/official-media-bias-fact/hdcpibgmmcnpjmmenengjgkkfohahegk?hl=en-US .
- Available at: http://adverifai.com/.
Judge at the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (2018 and 2019). MSc, attorney and economist; Digital Law Cyberlaw and Data Protection Program Coordinator at Research and Education Institute (INSPER); Digital Law Coordinator at Sao Paulo Law School (EPD); Member of the Executive Council of the Technical Study of the Internet of Things – IoT; Former Vice-Chair of the Privacy, E-Commerce and Data Security Committee of American Bar Association (Intl. Law) and Vice-Chair at the International Technology Law Association South America Membership Committee; Member of Octopus Cybercrime Community (Council of Europe); Member of EPA’s Policy and Scientific Committee – EPA’S Think Tank; EuroPrivacy Board Invited Member (Data Protection); President of Sao Paulo Lawyers Institute Standing Information and Technology Studies Commission; Coordinator of Study Commission of Digital Law of the Superior Council of Law at State Federation of Commerce (FECOMERCIO); Coordinator and co-author of the book “Manual of Electronic Law and Internet”.
Head of Legal Tech at Opice Blum. Co-Organizer of São Paulo Legal Hackers. Mentor of HackBrazil, a Brazil Conference initiative led by Harvard and MIT (2019). Judge at the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (2018 and 2019). MIT IAP Computational Law workshop (2018), and Teaching Assistant for the 2019 session. Postgraduate Diploma in Economics for Competition Law at King’s College London (2015/2016). Invited lecturer at Insper, FAAP, ESPM and Edevo. Graduated from the Centro Universitário de Brasília – UniCEUB.
Ali Kashif Bashir is a Senior Lecturer at School of Computing, Mathematics, and Digital Technology, Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom. He is a senior member of IEEE and Distinguished Speaker of ACM. His past assignments include Associate Professor of Information and Communication Technologies, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of the Faroe Islands, Denmark; Osaka University, Japan; Nara National College of Technology, Japan; the National Fusion Research Institute, South Korea; Southern Power Company Ltd., South Korea, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, South Korea.
He received his Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from Korea University, South Korea. MS from Ajou University, South Korea and BS from University of Management and Technology, Pakistan. He is author of over 80 peer-reviewed articles. He is supervising/co-supervising several graduate (MS and PhD) students. His research interests include internet of things, wireless networks, distributed systems, network/cyber security, cloud/network function virtualization, etc. He is serving as the Editor-in-chief of the IEEE Future Directions Newsletter: Technology Policy and Ethics.
He is editor of several journals and has served as a guest editor on several special issues in journals of IEEE, Elsevier, and Springer. He has served as chair (program, publicity, and track) chair on several conferences and workshops. He has delivered several invited and keynote talks, and reviewed the technology leading articles for journals like IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INDUSTRIAL INFORMATICS, the IEEE Communication Magazine, the IEEE COMMUNICATION LETTERS, IEEE Internet of Things, and the IEICE Journals, and conferences, such as the IEEE Infocom, the IEEE ICC, the IEEE Globecom, and the IEEE Cloud of Things.