As if it’s not enough that we have things like ballot blocking laws, gender inequality, big cargo carrier ships stuck in canals and murder hornets to worry about, now we have to start worrying about deepfakes.
What are deepfakes, you ask? As well you should.
Deepfakes are videos that take existing still images or videos and alter them, using really sophisticated new technology and even artificial intelligence to replace or manipulate images to create new, often scarily-realistic images, meant to deceive those that see it into believing something that is just not true.
Deepfakes are not new. Altering images on film or video or in still images has been known for as long as there have been ways to make and keep images. Many times it was the very people who created and developed the technology who found ways to alter the images, for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad.
Some of the earliest important historical images, some you’ve probably seen with your own eyes, were altered or tampered with to make them more interesting or more palatable or to suit someone’s idea of 19th century political correctness.
As photographs became more common, the alterations of photographs became more common. Soon “photo touch-ups” were something to be desired at every level of our society. In Hollywood, the epicenter of visual images, touch-ups were a way of life. Think Van Johnson or Montgomery Clift (look it up, you’ll see what I’m talking about).
As movies advanced technologically, so did the technology of altering images on film. They called it “special effects” back then; they still do. Shoot, these days, the vast majority of films are nothing but special effects; computers can generate just about anything, faster and cheaper, and in more fantastic detail than a filmmaker can possibly physically recreate in real space and time. Filmmakers can even create actors, ones who never have to be fed or allowed to rest or even paid the going union rates. They don’t even, really, have to be alive, anymore.
A new James Dean film, anyone?
Not all special effects are good enough to fool the eye, especially of someone who knows what to look for, but not everyone cares enough to take the time to make sure that what they are seeing is, in fact, real. There are a lot of people out there who are more than willing to accept a deepfake as the “truth” they so intensely want to believe, for whatever reason. They just share it with the others in the forums they hang out in, feeding on the misinformation.
Deepfakes would not be the intrusive, hurtful, damaging things they have the potential to be — racially, politically, religiously, sexually — if not for our society’s willingness to take sides, to refuse to see any but our own points of view, to believe any lie.
The next time someone sends you a clip of someone, anyone, doing something scandalous or outrageous or illegal or in any other way questionable, before you hit “Share,” stop and ask yourself: Is it real? Do you believe this is real or do you just want to believe it is real? Will you let some hacker with a personal vendetta and a super-advanced Photoshop app lead you around by your fears or will you use your rational brain to make up your own mind about what is the truth?