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Over the years, it’s evident that as the technology industry advances, it reshapes the landscape of our world, leaving a ripple effect on other industries.
Take artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT or Bard, for example. Within a short period, the chatbot, developed by OpenAI, has gone from providing simple query answers to helping everyone — from students to software engineers — create essay content and even generate code snippets. Regardless of what the public might feel about ChatGPT, its arrival has changed how we work daily and will continue to do so.
In recent times though, one disruptive form of technology has been making waves for multiple reasons and has been accused of proliferating fake news. Deepfakes, a blend of the terms “deep learning” and “fake,” have the ability to fabricate photos, videos, and other media types with unprecedented accuracy, making it easy to believe that they’re real. However, as virtual private network and cybersecurity company ExpressVPN has found, deepfakes have the power to change our perception of reality.
The impact deepfake could have on journalism
As it stands, the impacts of deepfake can already be seen in industries like entertainment and social media. Sectors like journalism — considered the cornerstone of various societies — have also not been exempted from it.
Earlier this year, images of the Pope in a white Moncler-looking puffer jacket and former U.S. President Donald Trump in an orange prison jumpsuit being arrested began circulating. Despite how convincing they looked, the images weren’t authentic and were created by a software called Midjourney.
Below, we explore the various ways in which deepfake technology could further blur the lines between the real and the artificial:
1. Threats to the veracity of information and the news
As deepfake technology becomes more sophisticated, it can become increasingly difficult to discern between deepfakes from real photos, videos, and audio clips. Such media content could lead to the spread of misinformation and fake news. This could potentially jeopardize the credibility of journalistic sources.
2. More work and research are required
Timeliness is an important quality in journalism, but the advent of deepfakes means that journalists and editors will have to spend more time researching and verifying that any footage that comes through hasn’t been doctored. This could potentially slow the reporting and publishing process. Some publications, like the Wall Street Journal, have even launched an internal task force that detects deepfakes.
3. The rise of alternate realities
In their article, ExpressVPN explored how a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect could influence how we remember events and facts. The phenomenon, named after former South African President Nelson Mandela, came to be when it was discovered that multiple people had somehow misremembered the date of his death. In 2018, Buzzfeed published a convincing deepfake video of former U.S. President Barack Obama saying unfavorable things about Donald Trump. The video, which turned out to be a creepy yet powerful PSA, reminded viewers of the need to be more vigilant with what they see on the internet.
The double-edged sword of deepfakes
However, while it has its shortcomings, deepfakes can also be a powerful tool for journalism. Below, we look at some of the ways that deepfakes can benefit the journalism industry.
1. A tool for investigative journalism
Despite their potential for misinformation, deepfakes offer new investigative journalism avenues. Journalists can use this technology to recreate events, simulate potential scenarios, or visualize complex stories more engagingly and understandably. However, these applications must be handled with transparency and ethical guidelines to prevent misuse and misunderstandings.
2. More exciting and enhanced means of storytelling
Another potential application of deepfakes in journalism lies in storytelling. The ability to recreate real-life scenarios can bring a new level of immersion and understanding to readers digitally. For example, using deepfake technology to animate historical figures could allow audiences to “experience” history, making stories more relatable and engaging.
3. Help human rights journalists remain anonymous
Journalists located in jurisdictions with oppressive regimes on free-speech policies could turn to deepfakes to help report on stories and issues happening in their region. The use of such synthetic media could help journalists remain anonymous and protect their privacy.
The rise of deepfakes has necessitated the development of new tools and methods for verifying media content. AI systems designed to detect deepfakes are now emerging, and newsrooms are integrating these tools to authenticate their sources. Furthermore, initiatives like the Content Authenticity Initiative and Project Origin are working on developing industry-wide standards for content provenance to combat deepfake misinformation.
The journalistic community must maintain ethical guidelines to govern the use of deepfakes in reporting. While recreating scenes or events can provide context and depth to stories, it must be done transparently. It needs to clearly indicate to readers when and how deepfake technology has been used.
4. The introduction of new jobs and skill developments
With multiple publications and newsrooms setting up AI and deepfake detection tools, there may be new avenues that aspiring journalists or even experienced journalists can explore in their careers. The introduction of these departments could lead to more job opportunities for employees in sectors such as marketing, IT, and graphic design.
What can you do to prevent yourself from falling for deepfake stories?
Newsrooms and journalists have a part to play in protecting their readers from misinformation. Yet, there are definitely things that you can do as well to prevent themselves from falling victim to deepfakes.
1. Remember to not believe everything you see online
It’s easy to believe everything you read and see online. However, given the current climate and the proliferation of deepfakes on social media, it’s worth adopting a healthy sense of skepticism when consuming content online. The use of generative AI is a growing cybersecurity threat and one which has seen hackers conjure up more sophisticated attacks.
Before sharing anything with others, ask yourself if what you see might be too good to be true. It’s also worth questioning if a source is trustworthy. Plus, question whether a publication has been known to lean towards a particular slant.
2. Verify any content if you’re unsure
In an attempt to help readers and protect them from falling for misinformation, many social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as news platforms, now introduce features that verify if a post, Tweet, or article has been fact-checked.
However, despite their best efforts, sometimes, pieces of questionable content might slip through the cracks. Readers could end up viewing something that might not have been verified. As such, it’s important for readers to verify this content themselves independently.
For example, suppose a suspicious video or image of a political figure is released on social media. In that case, readers can verify if the media is indeed genuine. They need to refer to other websites and see if there are other sources. In our opinion, readers should also try to avoid sharing pieces of content that they’re uncertain about with others. We believe this will help avoid the possibility of sharing fake news and spreading false information.
3. Stay up to date on the latest types of deepfakes
The world of deepfakes, machine learning, and AI moves fast, which means that developments happen almost daily. As such, it’s extremely important for the general public to stay informed about the various deepfakes that might appear over time. Social media can be a great tool for staying informed on AI’s latest news and trends.
Deepfake technology is redefining the boundaries of journalism, offering unprecedented possibilities and challenges. As this technology advances, it’s essential for journalists, technologists, policymakers, and society at large to engage in a continuous dialogue about its ethical, legal, and societal implications. A proactive approach–incorporating new verification tools, establishing ethical guidelines, and educating the public about deepfakes–is crucial to harnessing this technology’s power while safeguarding journalism’s integrity.
These are exciting times for the journalism industry. Journalism is inherently about seeking the truth, being the fourth estate, and presenting the information to the public. The advent of deepfakes doesn’t change this mission. It merely adds another layer to navigate, which, if used ethically, could pave the way for new forms of storytelling.