Detecting ‘deepfake’ videos in the blink of an eye

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It’s actually very hard to find photos of people with their eyes closed.

By Siwei Lyu, University at Albany, State University of New York

A new form of misinformation is poised to spread through online communities as the 2018 midterm election campaigns heat up. Called “deepfakes” after the pseudonymous online account that popularized the technique – which may have chosen its name because the process uses a technical method called “deep learning” – these fake videos look very realistic.

So far, people have used deepfake videos in pornography and satire to make it appear that famous people are doing things they wouldn’t normally. But it’s almost certain deepfakes will appear during the campaign season, purporting to depict candidates saying things or going places the real candidate wouldn’t.

It’s Barack Obama – or is it?

Because these techniques are so new, people are having trouble telling the difference between real videos and the deepfake videos. My work, with my colleague Ming-Ching Chang and our Ph.D. student Yuezun Li, has found a way to reliably tell real videos from deepfake videos. It’s not a permanent solution, because technology will improve. But it’s a start, and offers hope that computers will be able to help people tell truth from fiction.

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The hidden injuries of the age of exposure

Rochelle Gurstein writes:

What do we lose when we lose our privacy? This question has become increasingly difficult to answer, living as we do in a society that offers boundless opportunities for men and women to expose themselves (in all dimensions of that word) as never before, to commit what are essentially self-invasions of privacy. Although this is a new phenomenon, it has become as ubiquitous as it is quotidian, and for that reason, it is perhaps one of the most telling signs of our time. To get a sense of the sheer range of unconscious exhibitionism, we need only think of the popularity of reality TV shows, addiction-recovery memoirs, and cancer diaries. Then there are the banal but even more conspicuous varieties, like soaring, all-glass luxury apartment buildings and hotels in which inhabitants display themselves in all phases of their private lives to the casual glance of thousands of city walkers below. Or the incessant sound of people talking loudly—sometimes gossiping, sometimes crying—on their cell phones, broadcasting to total strangers the intimate details of their lives.

And, of course, there are now unprecedented opportunities for violating one’s own privacy, furnished by the technology of the internet. The results are everywhere, from selfies and Instagrammed trivia to the almost automatic, everyday activity of Facebook users registering their personal “likes” and preferences. (As we recently learned, this online pastime is nowhere near as private as we had been led to believe; more than fifty million users’ idly generated “data” was “harvested” by Cambridge Analytica to make “personality profiles” that were then used to target voters with advertisements from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.)

Beyond these branded and aggressively marketed forums for self-invasions of privacy there are all the giddy, salacious forms that circulate in graphic images and words online—the sort that led not so long ago to the downfall of Anthony Weiner. The mania for attention of any kind is so pervasive—and the invasion of privacy so nonchalant—that many of us no longer notice, let alone mind, what in the past would have been experienced as insolent violations of privacy.

Given our widespread obliviousness to the current situation, we might be better served by asking: What did people used to believe they lost when they lost their privacy? Surprisingly, it turns out that a large number of people began to speak of privacy in a self-conscious way only toward the end of the nineteenth century. As is often the case, the first defenders of privacy became aware of its value at the moment they were on the verge of losing it. [Continue reading…]

Promoting division is more popular than finding common ground on Twitter

Science News reports:

When it comes to politics, people on one side of the aisle often love to accuse everyone on the other of living in an echo chamber. Liberals hear only what they want to hear, while conservatives read only the news they agree with. (Of course, all those making the accusations are not in bubbles themselves. Oh no, of course not.)

A study published earlier this year suggests that those bubble accusations may be true — at least on Twitter.

Twitter users are most exposed to, and engage most with, the viewpoints that are closest to their own, the study shows. Those who do try to bridge the partisan divide suffer the ultimate social media consequence — less popularity. [Continue reading…]

Audiences love the anger: Alex Jones, or someone like him, will be back

By Michael J. Socolow, University of Maine

Confrontational characters spouting conspiracy theories and promoting fringe ideas have been with us since the invention of American broadcasting. First on radio, then on television, the American audience has consistently proven eager to consume the rants of angry and bitter men.

Before Alex Jones and InfoWars, there was Glenn Beck.

A decade ago, Beck was hawking his conspiracy theories on HLN and Fox News. Beck eventually left HLN and lost the Fox News job, just as the inflammatory Morton Downey Jr. lost his lucrative syndicated broadcast decades earlier.

And before Morton Downey Jr., there was Joe Pyne, the war hero who eventually ended up railing against “hippies, homosexuals and feminists” on the airwaves in the 1960s.

Before Pyne, there was Father Coughlin, “the radio priest.” Coughlin was eased off CBS in the 1930s when he refused to allow the network to vet his inflammatory commentary.

You get the idea. Alex Jones is not unique. Nor do I believe, as a historian of American media, that he will be the last of his kind.

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Facebook to banks: Give us your data, we’ll give you our users

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Facebook wants your financial data.

The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users.

Facebook increasingly wants to be a platform where people buy and sell goods and services, besides connecting with friends. The company over the past year asked JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger, said people familiar with the matter.

Facebook has talked about a feature that would show its users their checking-account balances, the people said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the people said.

Data privacy is a sticking point in the banks’ conversations with Facebook, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks are taking place as Facebook faces several investigations over its ties to political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which accessed data on as many 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

One large U.S. bank pulled away from talks due to privacy concerns, some of the people said. [Continue reading…]

Why Facebook will never change its business model

Following Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony in March, Len Sherman wrote:

Other companies can only dream of running a company with essentially:

  • No cost of goods sold (individual users and companies provide content for free)
  • No marketing costs (user word-of-mouth and viral network effects spur continuous growth)
  • No selling costs (most advertisements are purchased through a self-service, automated ad placement platform)

If you were in charge of such a money-making machine, would you be eager to change this business model?

But if Facebook provides such a valuable service to its more than 2 billion users, several Congressmen wondered aloud why the company couldn’t replace its ad-supported business model with user fees? Zuckerberg responded with a maudlin regurgitation of Facebook’s mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” which, he explained could only be accomplished with a free service.

Zuckerberg amplified on this theme in his recent war of words with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who had publicly chastised Facebook for selling access to user data. Zuckerberg called Cook’s comments “extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth,” going on to say:

The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people…But if you want to build a service which is not just serving rich people, then you need to have something that people can afford.

Zuckerberg’s impassioned rhetoric suggests that Facebook’s primary concern is to provide an affordable, valued service to its vast global community of users, many of whom have limited disposable income. But the second real reason Facebook is committed to its current business model is that the price advertisers are willing to pay Facebook to invade users’ privacy is vastly greater than the price most consumers would be willing to pay Facebook to protect their privacy. [Continue reading…]

As the bizarre QAnon group emerges, Trump rallies go from nasty to dangerous

Margaret Sullivan writes:

Hostility toward the media at Donald Trump’s rallies is nothing new. It infected the presidential campaign and has marred every raucous gathering of supporters since the election.

But on Tuesday night in Tampa, the extreme aggression dropped the basement floor another level.

This was a new low. And a scary one at that.

“I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in someone getting hurt,” CNN’s much-maligned reporter Jim Acosta noted, as he posted video of the scene.

It showed a sea of worked-up Trump supporters screaming curses at him and aggressively gesturing with their middle fingers.

The New York Times’s Katie Rogers agreed, calling it “as hostile as I’ve seen people.”

Making matters worse was a dark novelty: The emergence at the rally of a cultish group called QAnon. These are the deranged devotees of a supposed government agent who they believe is waging war against the “deep state” that threatens the Trump presidency.

Believers were front and center at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, as The Washington Post reported.

“As the president spoke, a sign rose from the audience. ‘We are Q,’ it read. Another poster displayed text arranged in a ‘Q’ pattern: ‘Where we go one we go all.’ ”

The group, born on Internet message boards such as Reddit and 8Chan, is a close cousin to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that led a gunman to open fire in a D.C. restaurant last year. The Huffington Post’s Andy Campbell described it as a mishmash: “It’s every conspiracy, all at once, an orchestra tune-up of theories.”

And although the group has staged public events in recent months, Tuesday night’s Trump rally was its real coming-out party.

What’s particularly troubling about QAnon’s embrace of Trump rallies is its love for armed conflict and quasi-military associations: This crowd likes guns. [Continue reading…]

The liar’s dividend, and other challenges of deep-fake news

Paul Chadwick writes:

Do the notes taken by the interpreters at the recent Helsinki summit include the words “Snowden” and “swap”? We could ask the Russians to check their (assumed) audio recording and let us all know whether Presidents Trump and Putin discussed such a prospect during their long private chat. Trump wrong-footing his own country’s intelligence community by delivering their most-wanted, Edward Snowden, seems precisely the trolling that Putin would enjoy.

What else might leak soon, in the form of audio of the authentic voices of two familiar public figures speaking to each other through the only other people in the room, the US interpreter and her Russian counterpart? What other mischief could be coming in this dawning era of astonishingly realistic “deep fakes”?

Artificial intelligence is becoming more proficient at using genuine audio and video to help create fake audio and video in which people appear to say or do what they have not said or done. Celebrities seeming to read aloud their own tweets and fake video of Barack Obama are two examples. Some developers indicate awareness of the ethical implications.

The issues are analysed in a new draft paper, Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy and National Security, by two US law professors. Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron unflinchingly yet constructively explain the potential harms to individuals and societies – for example to reputations, elections, commerce, security, diplomacy and journalism – and suggest ways the problem can be ameliorated, through technology, law, government action and market initiatives. The paper reflects and respects both experience and scholarship, a style familiar from the Lawfare blog that Chesney co-founded. The specifics in the paper are mostly American but its relevance is global. Deep fakes are aided by the quick, many-to-many spread of information, especially in social media, and by human traits such as biases, attraction to what’s novel and negative, and our comfort in our filter bubbles. [Continue reading…]

Facebook and YouTube give Alex Jones a wrist slap

The New York Times reports:

The digital walls are closing in on Alex Jones, the social media shock jock whose penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories and viral misinformation set off a heated debate about the limits of free speech on internet platforms.

Facebook said on Friday that it had suspended Mr. Jones from posting on the site for 30 days because he had repeatedly violated its policies. The social network also took down four videos posted by Mr. Jones and Infowars, the website he oversees.

“We received reports related to four different videos on the pages that Infowars and Alex Jones maintain on Facebook,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We reviewed the content against our Community Standards and determined that it violates. All four videos have been removed from Facebook.”

The 30-day ban applies only to Mr. Jones personally, not to Infowars or to any of the other administrators of his Facebook page, which has nearly 1.7 million followers. Those people will still be able to post to Mr. Jones’s page as long as their posts don’t violate the site’s policies — meaning that Mr. Jones could still appear in videos and stories posted to the page as long as he does not post them personally. [Continue reading…]

Jaron Lanier on how social media ruins your life