No matter how much we lower our expectations, no matter how cynical we are about our fellow Americans, the appallingly low quality of some of the Fake News people fall for on the internet is hard to accept. No matter how stupid or improbable the "story" or how utterly amateurish the quality of the source, as long as it happens to tell reactionary idiots what they already believe is true about the world they will pass it around the internet tens of thousands of times. And that's without making any effort to make it look real. With the slightest effort at plausibility and the endorsement of fringe media figures, the story can circle the globe. Seth Rich, anyone?

Last month Radiolab did an episode about a new technology that allows people to create videos of real people saying things (in their own voice) that they never said. In other words, I can take a video of Trump speaking and change what he is saying in a way that looks quite realistic – the new words are made using his own speech, and his mouth movements will match the new script. The working name is "facial manipulation." There are examples all over YouTube, and the researchers quoted in the Radiolab piece have an example or two on their own site appropriately called "The Future of Fake News."

The podcast does slightly exaggerate how far along the technology is. Most of the examples online look realistic enough but, under scrutiny, are still obviously Fake. But in five years? Ten? We can be confident that this will be close to flawless in the not too distant future.

When that happens – and when huge disinformation operations with unlimited resources like those of a certain country that rhymes with Plushia – will be able to pump the last few bullets into the already wheezing and limping democracies of the world. Just imagine the field day people on the right are going to have with this. They already go wild for things that don't even look realistic enough to fool a ten year-old. Think about what will happen when they have video – realistic video – of their political enemies saying whatever someone with editing skills decided they should say.

To people who fact-check and care whether something is fake or not before passing it along to an unsuspecting audience, these videos will be fairly easy to debunk. That is, what, five percent of the population? Everyone else will either embrace whichever version of Reality they prefer or – and I think this is the real goal – throw up their hands and declare that nobody can really say what is real anymore so everything is equally valid.

This is going to be bad. Really bad. We have already entered an era in which it is disturbingly easy and common for people simply to invent their own reality or conflate whatever they prefer to believe with the truth. Malevolent forces are already encouraging this behavior and providing the raw materials that will exacerbate the problem. We have a Vice-President whose preferred strategy for responding to things said by the President is to insist that he did not say the things he said. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination or cynicism to see where this is going.

Pointing out that fake news is fake does very little to dissuade people from believing it if they choose to do so; the dynamic of chasing down and responding to every piece of misinformation that flies around the internet is exhausting, resource intensive, and mostly pointless. Once these manipulated videos look good enough to pass the eye test, I can't see what is going to convince people to differentiate them from reality. Seeing a picture or video of something happening with our own eyes *is* reality to most people, and that doesn't even take the popularity of motivated reasoning into account.

Dark times.

51 thoughts on “GAME OVER, MAN”

  • Seriously, Ed? This technology isn't necessary. The fake news can start
    witch hunts as soon as their target says something syntactically close yet
    semantically distant. The most salient example to me is from Virginia
    earlier this year,

    Trump: I don't support the Nazis
    Fake News: Breaking news this evening, President Trump has stated,
    "I … support the Nazis!"

  • White America has come to the point of admitting “I’m happy to blow everything up, even for me and my family, as long as filthy non-whites and non-straights and to a large extent non-males get fucked even worse.”

    How does Democracy recover from that? When half the country is literally fine with voting against their own self-interest out of pure spite for the other?

    (Hint: It can’t!)

  • Unfortunately, we ALSO have a lot of liberals who have been falling for stories planted by the intelligence community into billionaire owed media like the Washington Post from just-as-dubious anonymous sources and accepting them as fact (Steele dossier, anyone?). Let's not pretend that the "fake news" phenomenon is exclusive to the right.

  • It's not going to be good no matter how one slices it, but I am at least slightly curious if this is something that the blockchain technology the concurrency fetishists are so taken with could be useful for establishing the provenance of at least reasonably professional news service clips.

    The idiots who either can't be bothered or actively don't care where their information comes from still won't make any effort to check, but it might be possible to add some kind of authentication mechanism for journalists and news services.

    No idea if anyone is actually working on such a thing, but the blockchain crowd keep going on about how it's a technology that's good for more than just for squandering vast amounts of electricity for fantasy currency speculation, so perhaps some developer can come up with something along those lines.

    It is impressive how abjectly clumsy many of these propaganda efforts are – and rather sad how either willfully ignorant or actively complicit someone has to be to buy into many of them.

  • "…Seeing a picture or video of something happening with our own eyes *is* reality to most people,…"

    Unless the video involves an LEO shooting a POC.

  • Whoddathunk it, that the horrible predictions of our future in George Orwell's great negative utopia, "1984," would not only come true (for the most part, and to varying degrees), but that reality would so easily trump and exceed fiction, and bring ever newer horrors to fruition with each new technological advancement/invention.

    This new ability will prove to be a very valuable tool for demagogue/dictator wannabe's!
    Any blurring of the truth, helps lube slippery slopes. And when you slip on any slope, you never slip "up" – always "down"!

    This is a new weapon for the already full arsenals of soulless, under-taxed billionaires, and equally soulless religious and political zealot's, to manipulate the gullible masses into following their agenda(s).

    A new era begins, run tRUMP style!
    Where layers of craven, greedy, cowards say "YES!" to any and every thing their boss wants them to do to sway the rubes, dopes, dupes, fools, suckers, dim/nit/half/fuck-wits (etc…) into making his/her musings and dreams, a reality.
    And what better tool to use to "prove" the bosses point(s) to the gullible masses, than to use his/her enemies own words against them – even if you have to digitally manipulate their words top make that happen.
    Hey, "all's fair in love and war," right?
    Even when it's people who love themselves and their agenda(s) so much, that they're willing to start cultural/political/religious wars to make them happen!
    It's fair, right?

    But what's in it for the craven, cowardly "Yes-men/women?"
    They hope that some small shavings or tiny slices of filthy lucre or power "Trickle Down" their way.
    Legions of Judas's, will roam the streets and "internet tubes," looking to find someone else they can gladly turn over to those in the halls of power, for however many silver coins they're willing to pay.

    In this 'Cowardly New World,' I'll start drinking and/or popping whatever formsnof Xoma

  • Oy!
    I hit "Submit Comment" by accident before I finally got to my point!

    That point being:
    In this 'Cowardly New World,' I'll just keep increasing the levels of drinking and/or popping whatever forms of Soma I can get access to.

    Hopefully, I'll either be dead, or so perpetuaĺly addled, that I won't notice when the foundation of this country finally reaches a tipping point, and implodes from the weight of all of the bullshit and bullshitters on it, and the roof crashes down to Earth – leaving behind a trillion little pieces of this nation's unrequited dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

    Care to join me in a Soma?

  • Mostly lurking says:

    Noskilz, I don't think there is a need for blockchains to provide proof of origin for data. Asymmetric encryption (PGP and the like) already provides the option of digitally signing any kind of data with your private key. Everyone who has your public key can check whether it was indeed you who signed the data. While I don't know much about how this all works in detail, I'm fairly certain that signature checking could be automated in a browser.

  • Hey, Gulag, nice comment, man. Where ya been?

    As for believing in the untrue because they want to…child sex slaves in the basement of a (basement-less) pizza parlor, anyone? Part of the appeal to some people was the elaborate codewords they gleefully imagined people using. "He walked into a pizza place and said he wanted a medium pizza with pepperoni and sausage–what a pervert!"

    Less-dangrously, what about the countless forwarded emails of things too unbelievable to be true? Did anyone else spend countless hours in the mid-1990s trying to debunk stupid forwarded emails that couldn't possibly be true, only to find people enjoyed believing the stupid? In particular, I'm thinking of the claim that Kentucky Fried Chicken didn't use actual chickens in its food, but instead some weird mutant meat kept alive in a lab. My crazy relatives and co-workers were absolutely convinced, even though we live in a huge chicken-producing state and it's no secret that chicken farmers are paid pennies for their work. WHY would a national (and international) chain restaurant put in the massive effort required to build, staff, and maintain laboratories filled with mutant meat products when it's far easier and cheaper to exploit the chicken farmers?

    That's when I learned that some people just enjoy being stupid and will fight like the demons of hell are after them if you try to present them with logic, and facts.

  • What katydid said. I wasted many such hours myself.

    It has been fairly well established that we have a tenuous relationship to objective reality across the board, and apply little or no scrutiny to information that confirms our world view. Conversely, we apply something well beyond scrutiny to information that challenges it. Snopes is lovely, but it doesn't convince anyone that is committed to an opposing view. There are good evolutionary reasons for this, but it's disastrous for a modern, high-connection civilization. We may have exceeded our factory spec in building this thing.

  • "Trump: I don't support the Nazis
    Fake News: Breaking news this evening, President Trump has stated,
    "I … support the Nazis!"

    Yes, I see what you mean, Tommy. You don't need special newfangled 'quipment to be a lying sack of crap.

  • @ KKK*:

    Dear Mr. KKKrazeepants KKKarl:

    Pro-tip: When you want to mess with people who are stupid, find another blog where you may practice your KKKraft without being ridiculed. Doing it here is akin to singing Karaoke at the Rock'n'Roll HoF. And, bud, you're tone deaf.

    * KKKlownish KKKarl KKKolchakkk

  • You're acting as if this sort of thing is even necessary to get dupes to believe just about anything. Sadly, it's not. The Onion has been a thing for years and years, and it STILL fools people to this day. I would have thought that Twitter bandwagoning would be more than enough proof that we have long, LONG passed the point of no return in regards to living in a world where we all agree on the base facts of reality.

  • Chemtrails are real, Kong sir, you can look up there and see them: right there in the sweet spot between thirty-five and thity-seven thousand feet where the ambient temperature is just cold enough to turn exhaust vapors into ice crystals. If I could get my pickup up there it would do the same thing.

  • Whew, that publish button is touchy today.

    Nice one Vic, see what happens when you get out more? I'm starting think this reliance on a 1984 narrative is a reich wing propaganda push to distract from the fact we do not live in a jack-booted police state but rather the la la land of a drugged, distracted and barely literate Brave New World.

    That hiss you hear is the air going out of the Screen Actors Guild.

  • Pretty much the cherry atop the observations in Democracy for Realists.
    Voters don't – cannot, really – understand the issues at stake, and thus results can be better sorted along the scales of racism, misogyny, and authoritarianism.

    Haunted these days by the phenomenon of China, The Perfect Dictatorship, as analogous to attractors in chaos theory. No, I can't do the math. Just fascinated by the concept of persistent states in a chaotic environment. Once they develop, hard to dissipate.

  • All you need to do is look at Politifact. A site that mostly tries to rate claims and definitively declare the honesty and truth to a claim. And I personally know people that claim it is biased (for the truth, but they won't admit that, and thus cannot be trusted.

    It infuriates me when people discount "facts" when they don't jive with their own world-view. To be fair, I feel the same way, and have to really work to accept an uncomfortable truth.

  • As if on cue, this article in today's Daily Brief from Asia Times.

    You gotta love Sitting-Around-And-Waiting-To-Die tea.

    Chinese millennials with a dim view of their career and marriage prospects are reveling in ironically defeatist “sang” culture, which is fueled by internet celebrities, music and certain mobile games and TV shows, as well as sad-faced emojis and pessimistic slogans, Yawen Chen and Tony Munroe write. They view it as a reaction to the cut-throat competition for good jobs in a slowing economy, but China’s authorities see it as unpatriotic. Having developed online, it now even has its own brands, such as the best-selling “sitting-around-and-waiting-to-die tea,” “achieved-absolutely-nothing black tea,” and “my-ex’s-life-is-better-than-mine fruit tea.”

  • This morning I did an inventory of my non-holistic health stuff and decided it was time to deep six a bunch of meds that I tried, which did not work as advertised or simply caused problems without remedying any. I put them all in a bottle and filled it with water, gave it a good shake and tossed it into the garbage can. By trash day it will be a paste of several different drugs–none of them any good for getting high. It will be tossed into the garbage which will be taken to the trash to energy plant and burned in a scrubber equipped incinerator.

    I should have just mixed the damned things with my weed-whacker's fuel and seeing if that might help with the skwerlz problem.

  • @Mo: huh, today in the NYT and WashPo, I read articles about young (20 – 35 year old) Chinese men and their collections of $25,000 – $70,000 watches. It seems to be a way now for the rich to display their wealth, by having dozens of ultra-expensive watches. No "waiting to die" tea for them.

  • Katydid – The 1% behaves in pretty much the same manner anywhere you go… If only we could figure out a way to shake 'em up as badly as the French Revolution's guillotine did.

  • As someone who has worked against Russian propaganda in a professional capacity in the past (and still do on a voluntary basis), I can tell you that the secret in fake news lies not in convincing people. On one hand, it is like Ed writes a tool to help people already on your side confirm their own beliefs.

    But it's also about sowing doubt and confusion so as to make it hard to debate and determine what is actually real. The Russians aren't really concerned with getting international audiences to seriously believe one of their 46 different MH17 alternative theories, for example. All they want is for people to at most, shy away from flat out saying "Russia shot down MH17," which incidentally is exactly what happened.

    You can create so much speculation that people just get tired of trying to understand what happened and they move on. In that case they're also effectively neutralized.

    Another aspect I've noticed is to make huge, hyperbolic claims against opponents so as to force honest people who oppose you to defend the former for the sake of actually debating reality instead of nonsense. In America this takes the form of saying Obama is a Muslim Marxist terrorist or saying that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt candidate ever. In Russia you do this by labeling pro-Ukrainian people as Nazis (the dynamics are a bit different). If you voice your actual criticisms of Hillary or the far-right in Ukraine, they act like you just conceded their argument as a whole.

    Lastly, if anyone thinks fact-checking will solve this problem, you need to read George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, preferably the latest edition.

  • @CU, my preferred soma is Mexican beer, but yeah, seems like higher doses are necessary to temporarily drown out the shit. Maybe I need one of Dr. Jacoby's shit-digging shovels. I'm joinin' you in spirit.

    Ed, I have no doubt that "facial manipulation" and vocal has been around for uh, let's say "state actors" for quite a while. I quit (necessarily) believing anything I saw on tv (without corroboration) about 25 years ago after seeing "Jurassic Park"– I don't think this is a new problem.

    As for MH17, were there any proof that the Russian military, or even Russian- backed Ukrainian rebels had shot it down, the US media would not have let it go, and we might've gotten the hot(ter) civil war in eastern Ukraine that Nuland and pals seemed so excited for.

    We're living in a hall of goddamn mirrors. And Ed, I'm a lot more concerned with the "fake news" put out by our own government and it's state organs the Times and the Post than Russians under the bed. (I AM interested to see what Mueller comes up with, but my guess is that it'll be more or less standard corruption.) Why anyone takes anything they print at face value after 2002/2003 is a mystery to me.

    ("…the "fake news" put out by our own government and ITS state organs…")

  • @ Major Kong

    Now that I'm in the loop, I would like my Illuminati hush payment, please.

    @ geoff

    I've heard that psy ops in the late Iraq war did this to screw over their C&C, meaning we're already well down this particular rabbit hole.

    Maybe if the FCC started pulling air time for pushing demonstrably false stories, things would shape up (Running a Seth Rich conspiracy? That's 5 minutes of dead air between 7 and 7 pm on a Wednesday).

  • Thanks, Geoff, for demonstrating exactly how Russian propaganda works.

    All credible evidence and investigations, along with basic common sense, point to Russia shooting down MH17. The media did spend plenty of time on the subject, revisiting it every time there was a break in the investigation. Obviously you didn't bother to pay attention but yet you still feel entitled to express an ignorant opinion about it. One side of the story has been more or less consistent from the beginning, while the other side has produced numerous, often mutually exclusive "alternative theories" over the course of about two years. That tells you who is lying.

    And if Nuland were so eager to get America into a war (because apparently the US now entrusts that job to its representative to the EU), why did the US leadership instruct the new Ukrainian government NOT to resist the takeover of Crimea, why did they repeatedly say "there's no military solution," and why did they refuse to provide any arms (they're still just saying they'll "consider" it now)?

    Weird how these super geniuses conspire to start a war, and then totally forget to actually fight it. But then again, all conspiracy theories are basically the same in that the conspirators are always super-geniuses and total morons at the same time.

  • @Russia, here's just a sample of why I don't believe the "russian armed forces and/ or their Ukrainian catspaws" shot down MH17:

    Parry is a respected, old school former AP reporter who broke the Iran/Contra scandal. He ain't infowars. More to the point however, had the US had a shred of actual proof, they would have produced it, sources and methods be damned. And I'm a lot more concerned about the Secretary of State of Ohio (or FL ffs) "hacking" our votes than the FSB.

  • So you're willing to believe a ridiculously implausible theory because one guy who used to be a decent reporter clearly doesn't understand the investigation? Look how early he fucks everything up:

    "According to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which while “led” by the Dutch was guided by the Ukrainian SBU intelligence service, the Russians delivered the Buk anti-missile battery at a border crossing about 30 miles southeast of Luhansk on the night of July 16-17, 2014. From that point, there would have been an easy and logical route to the JIT’s claimed firing site."

    See how he deceptively puts "led" in quotes and claims they are guided by the SBU? In fact the joint investigation also took into account Russia's input and commentary. Not only that, but it actually considered so many alternative hypotheses that a "meteor" striking the plane was actually considered and ruled out.

    "After the MH-17 shoot-down, which killed 298 people, I’m told the Russian government did fear that somehow one of its field operatives might have been responsible and conducted an intensive investigation, including an inventory of its equipment, concluding that all its Buk missiles were accounted for."

    He's "told?" Told by whom?

    "I was also told that at least some CIA analysts shared the doubts about Russia’s guilt and came to believe that the MH-17 shoot-down was the work of a rogue and out-of-control Ukrainian team with the possible hope that the airliner was a Russian government plane returning President Vladimir Putin from South America."

    Oh he's TOLD again. By CIA analysts? Which ones? This claim about trying to shoot down Putin's plane was initially floated in the first few hours after the shoot-down, and then mysteriously pulled from RT's website without explanation. Gee I wonder why.

    Plenty of evidence has been presented and if you were really interested you'd read that rather than adopt such an idiotic point of view based on one source.

    People like you are the reason Trump is president.

  • People like me who live in red states don't have any influence on who's elected President. I also said that the Parry article was just one example. But I guess because I trust journalists like Seymour Hersh more than say David Ignatius, I must be some kinda commie-symp pinko.

  • From Richard Rovere's definitive bio of Joe McCarthy, the major politician whom Trump most resembles IMO:

    "Who can keep track of them all?" Elmer Davis once wrote, apropos of McCarthy's lies and contradictions. "I have a stack of McCarthy's speeches two feet thick on my office shelf; but when he says something that stirs a vague recollection that he once said something very different, I seldom have time to run through his speeches. I can't afford to hire a full-time specialist to keep up with what McCarthy has said."

    Internet technologies certainly help. But before lies can spread, someone has to originate them, like a major politician who lies all the time, about everything.

  • Yep, Hersh is constantly relying on these anonymous, oddly well-placed sources who always seem to tell him exactly what he needs to build his narrative, kind of like that former AP guy you quoted. As for me, I tend to trust the journalists I know personally who actually investigated the MH17 case.

  • Fareed Zakaria did a piece on the technology of faking news about a month or so ago:

    "How To Smell Bullshit" would be an interesting college course.


    I was the family's default debunker until I discovered Snopes and refused to do anyone else's critical thinking for them any longer. Though I once managed to convince my mom that setting your credit card too close to the computer would allow hackers to steal your credit card number (okay, I couldn't keep a straight face for very long). The KFC meat was a classic…they weren't allowed to say "Kentucky Fried Chicken" anymore because they'd get sued for false advertising, that's your proof right there! Dirty heroin needles in the coin return of pay phones was another. Playing certain music backwards was going to turn your children into Satanist serial killers, and razor blades in apples was a widespread Halloween epidemic that killed like half the population of American children *every year*.

    Actually, I think the relentless email forwards of the 90's are why I rarely communicate with my family through email anymore.

  • @democommie

    Your IFF is terrible man. Russian Without BS was discussing how Putin's propaganda mechanisms regarding flight MH-17 work and how geoff was buying into them. Seriously, read the conversation before mouthing off.

    tl;dr: the real problem with software that creates fake narratives isn't that we'll have a few really well-defined ones that people will believe. It's that we'll have a million poorly-created ones that are just good enough to make people throw up their hands in frustration and despair. This is what RT and Sputnik do. They create a million barely-plausible stories in the hopes of burying the real one.

  • @jcdenton:

    I think I woke up to early.

    @ Russia without BS:

    I apologize. I am not sure how that happened. I did read your first post and then I was checking something on another blog and I probably need to go over there now and insult some guy who thought I was gonna be his best bud and staunchest supporter.

    I am sorry.

  • Ha, I remember reading basically this same article back in, I'm gonna say, 1989? '90?

    The subject was the then-fairly-new and still rather restricted area of digital photo manipulation – the first version of Photoshop had come out the year before – with the writer fretting about a world in which photographic evidence no longer held value… "While this photo *purports* to show my client in bed with a strange woman, we maintain that it is merely a skillfully-crafted forgery. Why, with a mere few thousand dollars' worth of computer equipment, a convincing image could be constructed of any two people in a similarly compromising position – even, respectfully, your honor himself."

    Plus ca change and all that, I guess.

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