There have been a few stories circling on CNN and other major news sites surrounding a phenomenon now known as “deep fake.” In a world of #fakenews that cannot be good to hear. Now, don’t panic, but also take heed. Propaganda is nothing new, but as technology gets better, the ability to create seemingly real audio and visuals from almost nothing is becoming a reality. Deep fake is distinct in that unlike the sneaky video editing and audio dubbing we are used to, these new videos that have surfaced are entirely computer generated with audio mixed in to sound legitimate.
This is especially concerning as unfortunately, in an age where justice for victims of police brutality or sexual assault depend so much on reliable video or recorded evidence, the continued propagation of fake news only serves to further damage trust in institutions, and worse, our very own eyes. When cases which seem so apparently easy to prosecute become subject to even further unjustified skepticism, making the case that you’ve been wronged is so much more difficult.
Then there is a dangerous philosophical issue. If we can’t really trust what we see on the internet or our television set, then not only do we not know what is true, but the most deluded or sinister among us can just will their own reality into public opinion. “Crime is rising. Crime is rising, Crime is rising.” With no way to verify the truth, the “truth” becomes whatever the person with the most power decides it is. This is at the very core of every great evil in human history. People are hard to convince, but the one liar we all are fooled by is ourselves.
Now, that doesn’t put us in a very comfortable position. What is to be done? Do we care enough to live in a world that is dictated by what is really true, or are we content to be arranged on ladder crawling over one another in a sick ideological “king-of-the-hill?” There are few ways we can deal with this.
I concede my bias, but I will argue that the best check against this is good journalism. It will take a great deal of character, but those who desire to spread truth and live honestly must be heroic enough to do so. That means holding ourselves and each other accountable, but it also means being restless in our pursuit of truth. We can never settle for just what is good enough.
On a larger scale, we need an educated and more importantly responsible electorate. We know what bias looks like, and almost all of us have access to the internet (a privilege we seem to forget in America). It is not only moral but intellectually responsible to do research and gather more information before passing judgement on an idea. It sounds somewhat silly, but even the most ridiculous ideas must be dealt with in earnest. It’s easy to dismiss that argument in a world with flat-earthers, anti-vaxers, and climate-change deniers, but as you get closer to what we consider more “reasonable” positions there is a large gradient of ideas. I don’t think any one of us gets to decide where the line is on a purely intellectual level.
This is my final point: “objective” information is valuable, but we must not neglect the experience of others. Truth and empathy are really two sides of the same coin in that respect. Only through true communicative action will we be able to whether the onslaught of propaganda and attractive yet dangerously misinformed ideas.