First There Was ‘Fake Art’. Then ‘Fake News’. Now Deepfake

Since dwarfed by Citizen Kane, this strange and fascinating film was shot on Ibiza, a Balearic Island off Barcelona. It was about that time I was backpacking around Europe and holed up on tiny Formentera. About once a week I’d take a small ferry over to Ibiza to collect my mail at the office of American Express.
Back then there were three famous ‘fakers’ operating on Ibiza: Orson Wells who was filming the story of Elmyr de Hory, the world’s greatest art forger, and Elmyr’s friend Clifford Irving, who was writing the bestselling biography of Howard Hughes, a complete and utter hoax.
F For Fake is such a masterful mix of truth and lies that by the end you’re not sure which side Orson Welles, the star and narrator, is on. Watch it and you’re left with a very healthy fear of fraud and its inevitable demise. De Hory killed himself, Irving went to prison and Orson Welles, paralyzed by such early success and then harsh criticism of his work, spent much of his life in self-exile, left 24 film projects unfinished and died in bed with a typewriter on his ample stomach.
More recently, in four astonishing and painful years, President Donald Trump turned “fake” into an art form. According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, Trump dismissed factual accounts about him and his administration by uttering the term “fake news” more than 900 times. Repeat it enough times and soon TV reporters at Trump rallies were being intimidated, threatened and punched.
Trump even lied about inventing the phrase “fake news” when he bragged that it was “one of the greatest of all terms I’ve ever come up with.” Long before Trump but not necessarily that far removed — Hitler coined the term the “Lugenpresse” or the “lying press” in order to muzzle his critics.
So if you thought Orson Welles’ fake art was troubling and Donald Trump’s “Everything Is Fake But Me” was democratically dangerous well, wait for it… Deepfake is here and although previously not thought possible… maybe more treacherous than Trump.
Recently Jordan Peele of BuzzFeed used artificial intelligence and layer after layer of photo animation to get the image of Barak Obama’s mouth perfectly shaped and flawlessly manipulated. Then he “ventriloquized” Obama in a totally believable but wholly fake video in which the former president rants on about things he has never said including “Donald Trump is a total and complete dipshit.”
Normally new technology — which has become the tail that wags the dog with the dog being you and I — begins with good intentions. However Deepfake, based entirely on deception and lies might be the first piece of hardware in the history of computer science that is just plain evil from the get go.
This rogue piece of technology now has film stars Scarlet Johansson, Natalie Portman and Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot starring in a Deepfaked porn videos. Queen Elizabeth delivered her last Christmas message on Channel 4 in Britain as a ‘made-up monarch’. And after a daring news venture, the BBC was forced to publicly deny the outbreak of nuclear war. Timely, ‘Deepfake armageddon’ was detected before somebody pushed the panic button and a real shooting war broke out. How popular is Deepfake among the trolls? Scarlet Johansson’s fake porn video has been viewed 1.5 million times.
In a Deepfake scene from an Austin Powers’ movie, Mike Myers, as “Dr. Evil” has been seamlessly replaced by then President Donald Trump. (Funny how nuggets of truth keep popping up from the Deepfake state when it comes to a guy who in four years of office told 30,573 lies.)
Noelle Martin of Western Australia was just 18-years-old when her life was ruined by anonymous sexual predators. They Deepfaked her images onto pornography videos and distributed them around the world, complete with horrid comments about her face and body. In the agonizing years that followed Martin has fought a courageous battle, not just to clear her reputation but to pursue the perpetrators of Deepfake and bring attention to this fast-spreading Internet disease.
From a near suicide victim to the world’s foremost advocate for truth on social media, Martin has been named Young Australian Of The Year and was the face of International Women’s Day in 2019. “It could have been any of us,” she said.
There are days when the hate on social media is embraced by so many anonymous enthusiasts, it’s difficult to imagine, even with the Noelle Matrins of this world, how ‘ good’ can eventually win out over ‘evil’.
Who knew that those two infamous words uttered by Kelly Ann Conway, head of the White House Liar’s Club — “ alternative facts” — would one day become the rally cry for world misinformation and its Deepfake delivery system.
If you don’t believe that the digital world is moving at warp speed towards nothing that can be described as ‘good’, remember that it was just 32 years ago, when music fans were outraged to learn that Milli Vanilli had lip-synced their hit song at a concert in Connecticut in front of 80,000 fans? The title of that song by the way — Girl You Know It’s True.
With no known application for good, Deepfake is a highly sophisticated form of undetectable visual disinformation. Just wait until Trump’s Proud Boys or even Vladimir Putin have this tool in their boxes of destruction.
When you get to the point where half the world’s population denies the truth and believes in professionally created and falsely documented lies — democracies will be functionally dead, replaced by dictators whom we can only hope will be benevolent.
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