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Videos can bare the truth and mask the lie

Digital manipulation can create fake footage, misleading people into believing falsehoods

FAKE NEWS MORE CONVINCING THAN EVER BEFORE

The ominous presence of fake news is no longer just in what you read, but could soon be in what you watch as well.

Imagine faked video footage of a close relative saying he has been kidnapped, or, in the worst-case scenario, a world leader talking about starting a nuclear war.

A recent Guardian report highlighted a slew of cutting-edge video and audio manipulation tools that could very well be the next stage in propagating false information.

The simpler part of this process lies in the audio, which can be easily duplicated. Montreal-based artificial intelligence firm Lyrebird, for instance, said it can mimic a person's voice with just a minute of actual recording.

On its website, it has an audio file of American politicians Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump extolling the wonders of the software. Of course, none of these is actually an authentic testimonial.

In a recent press release, Lyrebird said the manipulated voices can also convey emotions such as anger, sympathy and stress by tweaking the intonations using artificial intelligence.


A screenshot showing Iranian TV host Azadeh Namdari holidaying in Switzerland. Netizens were quick to criticise her alleged double standards. She explained later that her headscarf had fallen off at the time. PHOTO: BOPPINMULE/TWITTER

The next step lies in the visuals.

Face2Face is a program developed by researchers at Stanford University, which allows users to manipulate video footage of public figures in real time.

All a user needs is a webcam capturing the movement of his own face while talking. The facial movements are then morphed seamlessly on to the public figure, making it seem like he is mouthing those words himself.

The technology was demonstrated on puppeteering videos of former US president George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The problem was that viewers could still spot discrepancies as the faked public figures' movements were slightly out of sync.

Then, earlier this month, researchers from the University of Washington released a high-quality video of former US president Obama giving an impassioned speech about a mass shooting.

The only distinction between the original and the fake, was that the latter featured Mr Obama wearing a subtly different suit and tie.

While telltale signs of manipulation would always be there for those who know where to look, the issue this time round is that not many social media users will closely scrutinise doctored content before passing them on as gospel truth.

Given society's lack of media literacy, this could potentially be a major problem in the conceivable future.

CAUGHT RED-HANDED?

An Iranian TV personality, who actively endorses wearing the hijab, was caught in a bind when a holiday video of her drinking beer without a headscarf went viral.

State presenter Azadeh Namdari, a 32-year-old known proponent of the Islamic dress code, was filmed while vacationing in Switzerland.

Wearing a headscarf is the law for women in Iran, where alcoholic drinks are banned.

Some Twitter users took to the platform to express their ire.

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The hashtags #hypocrisy, #liar and #chador, which refers to an outer garment worn by some women in Iran, typically accompanied the posts.

"Such double standards. What she says and what she does is entirely different," said one user.

In 2014, Namdari was featured in hardline conservative Iranian newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz in a full hijab. The article focused on Namdari espousing the benefits of wearing the chador.

The incriminating video gave Namdari little room to contest its authenticity.

In response, she published another video to explain, this time wearing a hijab.

Namdari said she was on holiday, sitting with close family members when her headscarf fell suddenly.

The video was taken at that instant by an unknown person, she added in the two-minute clip. She made no mention of the purported beer she had been drinking.

While it did not seem that many netizens believed her version of events, Namdari did manage to gain new fans.

"She can do whatever she wants, it's her life. If you choose to believe the message she is pushing, that's your problem," said one Twitter user.

ABUSING THE VIDEO FORMAT

Videos are, without doubt, the biggest thing for many social media platforms, and some content creators are shamelessly attempting to take advantage of that.

How?

Instead of posting a static photo on Facebook, content creators convert the image into a static "video", one that does not move and has no accompanying sound.

And because it looks like a static image visually, most Facebook users who leave the autoplay option on will not notice a difference.

This is not the only way page owners are attempting to game the system.

Last week, a page launched a live-streaming Facebook Live broadcast of a "storm", which was actually a looping GIF, a type of image file, of a storm cloud with a few sound effects added.

It garnered more than 22 million views before it was taken down temporarily by Facebook.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Videos can bare the truth and mask the lie'. Print Edition | Subscribe