Recently we’ve been talking a lot about deepfakes in the Studio after watching this video. We don’t like to admit it, but it took all of us until the Robert De Niro impression to figure out what was going on! But this lead to much more serious discussions about deepfakes, especially after reading a recent BBC article saying that the number of deepfake videos on the internet had double in just 9 months. Cybersecurity company Deeptrace found that there are now over 14,698 deepfake videos online in comparison to just 7,964 videos in December 2018.

Deepfakes came to prominence after researchers at the University of Washington released a paper describing how they had created a realistic fake video of the then-president Barack Obama. Since then we have seen the scary reality of deepfakes, with many believing that deepfakes will play a huge part in the American 2020 elections. However, at the moment the majority of deepfakes that exist are found on porn websites where famous actors faces are being swapped into the content.

A report from Witness Media Lab found that creating convincing deepfake videos still requires a lot of skill. The report found that to create something realistic involves employing a team of people with specialised skills and all the right technology. However, the lengthy and complicated process of creating a believable deep fake is already beginning to change, and become more accessible to everyone. This would allow people without the skills or technology to still have a go at creating deepfakes. This process would allow the user to create less sophisticated videos, but with the ability to create them much quicker, and without such a huge cost. This new accessibility to the general public is likely to become a real issue, especially in regards to cyberbullying and revenge porn.

Deepfakes can often be hard to spot, but what can be done to stop deepfakes spreading? Well, Facebook, Google and Buzzfeed are just some of the companies trying to raise awareness and change the world of deepfakes. After a deepfake of Mark Zukckerburg emerged earlier this year, Facebook announced that it had set up a $10m ( £8.1m) fund to find a better way of detecting deepfakes. However, Facebook has also been criticised after it refused to remove an edited video of Nancy Pelosi was uploaded to the website which made Pelosi look as though she was drunk. Instead, Facebook said that it would help to reduce the way videos circulate on newsfeeds and add an information box, with links to fact-checking websites.

Google, however, went for a slightly different approach to stopping deepfakes. It created 3000 of its own deepfake videos. These videos were all created using the faces of willing actors. The videos were then donated to the University of Munich and the University of Naples Federico II so that the teams at each university have a safe way of finding a way to stop the spread of deepfakes.

Buzzfeed’s involvement with stopping the spread of deepfakes is slightly less direct but still important. Buzzfeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti said: “We’ve covered counterfeit news websites that say the pope endorsed Trump that look kinda like real news, but because it’s text people have started to become more wary, but now we’re starting to see tech that allows people to put words into the mouths of public figures so it looks like they must be real because it’s video and video doesn’t lie!

So to combat this the global entertainment and news platform partnered with multiple award-winning director Jordan Peele to create something that the public may or may not believe: a deepfake of Barack Obama criticising Donald Trump. The video helped to play a part in educating the public to now always believe what the see on the screen, either written text or now video. However, the video was created using Adobe After Effects and FakeApp, an AI program that allows the user to effortlessly create deepfakes: Apps that are both easily accessible to the general public, thus emphasising the danger of deepfakes even more.

While some deepfakes can be great fun, like this impressionists poem we began with, they also have the possibility to completely change everything that we believe to be true in the future. But whatever happens, we know one thing for sure: deepfakes aren’t going away any time soon. So as Jordan Peele’s Obama says: ‘Say woke, bitches!’

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