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Agenda 2020: Deep Fakes to Dominate the Information Space

Published Dec 31, 2019
Updated Feb 18, 2020

The second decade of the 21st Century saw the emergence of fake news as an important tool for the spread of strategic disinformation, influencing the masses, triggering protests and frequently leading to loss of lives of innocents lynched by mobs. The number of mediums that are available today and the ability of individuals to produce news has increased exponentially. While a majority are consumers of information state and non-state actors are using the broad base to advantage by spreading their propaganda to achieve the information and disinformation objectives.

The reach of the new media would be evident with the fact that What’s App today has 400 million people users in India. Even if a large many are discounted from using the app for anything more than sharing of personal titbits, the large numbers make it an attractive medium to influence the masses. This potential was recognized soon, and today a message can be forwarded to only five users on What’s App. At the same time multiplicity of What’s App groups implies that each member acts as a node sharing information to other individuals and groups to which he is connected thus rapidly spreading the same in a matter of seconds.

Positive sharing of information has multiple advantages and has revolutionized the way people engage in social networks or business. Political parties have used these tools for campaigning.

The downside is spreading disinformation. As with new technologies and media, the deviants tend to exploit it faster than that by regular users.

So far, the messages may be reasonably innocuous as compared to what may be in the offing in the coming days where deep fakes are likely to be exploited by the miscreants to advantage.

Advances in deep learning, speech and video processing with artificial intelligence provide a vital tool for creation of deep fakes with quotes or videos in which a target say a political actor will be made to speak and behave in a manner as the original actor. This will give the viewer an impression that the message being conveyed by the political leader is genuine.

By the time there is a rejoinder declaring the news as fake the damage may have been done with spread over multiple networks exploiting the power of nodes. Moreover, as the viewer tends to believe a negative message more than a positive one which may be ignored due to lack of sensational content, the tendency to spread the same will be even higher.

Importantly not just political messages which are likely to dominate the United States Presidential elections due in 2020, but also conflicts such as the Indo Pakistan or US and Iran may see the use of deep fakes to spread falsehoods and gain propaganda advantage.

Used by media architects having a good understanding of how information is absorbed with the desired impact by a viewer, deep fakes will be powerful influencers.

Platforms such as What’s App, Tik Tok, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram along with Twitter could be used for the purpose and by the time the discrepancy is noticed by alert viewers the damage may have been done.

Importantly there is no proactive and pre-emptive antidote developed for a deep fake so far thus providing a free run for the malefactor both state and non-state actor alike.