Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are almost always in the headlines. Stories regarding the CEO of the world’s largest online social media platform have been circulating for some time. Even Facebook has been at the forefront of controversy. Both Zuckerberg and his social media giant have had a number of rumors being circulated around about them. Here are just a handful that you’ve probably stumbled across:
“It’s official! Facebook is going to start charging users a membership fee of $9.99 a month to access their system. And this is just the basic plan! For full access to your profile and newsfeed, you’ll need to upgrade to their silver plan for $14.99 a month. If you want access to all of Facebook it’s $19.99 a month! I don’t know about you, but I’m not okay with paying that! But according to Facebook and the media, there’s a way out of this. In order to be exempt from the subscription plan, you need to post this message to your page. Post, not share! If you don’t do this by tomorrow, Facebook will start charging. Post this and write ‘I do not agree to pay for Facebook!’ and sign your name to the bottom. Facebook will not charge you. Please share with your friends so that they know!”
Then there’s also this one:
“By tomorrow Facebook will make all of their users content and profiles public. So if you have your stuff set to private, it will be made available for the world to see. Obviously a lot of us don’t want this to happen! It can be dangerous for women who have left abusive relationships and can give pedophiles access to children’s pages. Yikes! You can opt out of this though by sharing this post and writing ‘I do not give Facebook permission to make my account public!’ Sharing this post, writing that line, and signing your name at the bottom is the only way to prevent this from happening. Please share so that others may do the same! This can save lives!”
Of course there are number of others, but those two seem to be the most popular.
These are totally fake by the way. As to why they were created or who the original poster was remains unclear. But the point of the matter is that neither Facebook nor Zuckerberg are unaccustomed to being at the forefront of social media hype. And because of posts like these as well as other “fake news” posts like “Ryan Reynolds found dead in apartment” are quickly flagged by Facebook and you’ll see a notification underneath clarifying its authenticity. However it’s harder to flag individual posts like the rumors above.
Facebook and Zuckerberg Come Under Fire
Last month, Facebook and its creator come under some serious fire after they refused to take down a video of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the video, which is fake by the way, Nancy Pelosi had been edited to appear drunk. Many were upset about the video, including Pelosi. “It looked incredibly real. Whoever edited the video did a really good job. A lot of us were convinced that it was actual footage of her rambling around drunkenly,” said many users. Appeals were made to remove the video. Monika Bickert, who is Facebook’s content cop (yes, that’s a legit title for a job that actually exists), told the press that the video was reviewed by a number of fact checking websites. It was determined that it was a hoax. After this revelation, Facebook dramatically cut down on the video’s circulation. However, they didn’t remove it. And this caused social media users and the press to have a field day.
Social media users were quick to voice their concerns and disapproval. “How can you allow something like this to continue to circulate? Yeah, it’s fake and a lot of us know that but it’s still defamation of character in a way. Pelosi is being shown in a very negative light and that can definitely affect her political career. Plus there are those on the Internet that are gullible and if something like this comes about, especially since it’s so well put together, they believe it and that can be incredibly damaging. And where does the hoax stop? Does it end with Pelosi or will others be victims too?”
According to Bickert, “the fact that the video is fake isn’t grounds for it to be taken down. We won’t pull content just because it’s fake. People are free to distribute what they like as long as it’s not hate speech or hurting anyone. However, we do think it’s important that people make their own informed decisions on what to believe. Our job here is to make sure we’re providing them with accurate information.” This is likely one of the reasons that Facebook now includes the fact checker under content that’s been flagged as fake.
“That’s not enough,” say many users. “This type of damaging content shouldn’t be allowed to circulate at all.”
Two Artists Put that Policy to the Test
Two artists and an ad agency decided to put Facebook’s policy to the test by creating and releasing a deep-fake video of Mark Zuckerberg. The video was drafted by Bill Posters and Daniel Howe, who are UK artists, with the help of advertising company Canny. It was then uploaded to Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.
In the video, viewers are greeted with an image of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seated at a desk. He appears to be talking to a US news network about his social media platform. In the video, Zuckerberg’s facial features have been altered to make it appear as if he is saying the following:
“If you will, imagine this scenario for one moment: there’s one man and he has total control over billions of people’s stolen data, access to their secrets, their lives, and even their futures,” Zuckerberg’s likeness takes a deep breath before continuing, “I owe all of this to Spectre. Spectre showed me the way. Whoever has control of the data, controls the future.” In other words, Zuckerberg admitted that he’s been working with a shadow corporation. In this case, that company was Spectre. Through Spectre, the social media mogul has been able to access a lot of private, valuable data regarding users. With this data, Zuckerberg is in complete control of nearly everything. He can sell the data as he sees fit or charge users to keep it protected. He can also profit from it by selling search information to companies for ad targeting.
The video instantly went viral and was being shared all over social media platforms. “He’s finally admitting to something that we’ve all known for a long time,” many users said. “We’ve always known that Facebook had access to all of our private data and that they’ve been spying on us. We also knew that they were selling this info the highest bidder. Zuckerberg has finally admitted what we all knew.”
While many were quick to point out that the audio was poorly synced and the dialogue was “hammy” at best, many remained convinced that it was real. The obvious flaws of the video, however, are what prompted Facebook to leave the clip up. “We wanted to see if Facebook would leave the video up or pull it when their CEO was the target. We really expected them to violate their own rules and take it down. After all, it put Zuckerberg in a really bad light,” says the artists. “We were surprised however when Facebook chose to leave it up. I guess they are willing to follow their own rules even if it includes them.”
What are Deep-Fakes?
According to Wikipedia, Deep Fake is defined as a “human image synthesis technique that’s been created using AI. Creators both superimpose and combine images/videos/audio that are already in circulation using a machine learning technique called the generative adversarial network. This machine combines the preexisting images with content created by the user. This way they can craft fake celebrity porn vids, revenge porn, satirical images, etc.” While most are benign as we’ve mentioned before, there is still the fact that many are used for malicious and devious purposes. The aforementioned are just some of the malicious acts deep fakes are used for.
Users manipulate facial features on the subject to make it appear as if they’re saying the audio that’s been imposed, while others splice faces onto gathered images of bodies. The term deep fake came about in 2017 and it has stuck ever since.
Are there Laws Against This Type of Content?
On May 21, a study funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation hit the airwaves. In this study, they explored the risks associated with deep fakes circulating across social media. Co-author Tom Barraclough also said that it’s worrisome because these videos are becoming increasingly sophisticated. “Right now we easily discern that they’re fake. But as technology grows, it will become harder and harder to decipher what’s real from what’s fake. And I don’t have to tell you how dangerous this can be not only to the people involved in the videos but to the public as well.”
Curtis Barnes and Barraclough also warned about “knee-jerk” reactions to the videos. “Many people will take them at face value to support beliefs that they’ve long held onto. A lot of users out there believe that social media is out to get them. Videos like this only drive up the hype.”
With this in mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this is not only acceptable but legal. However, specific legislation regarding this type of video content does exist. Last year, the Malicious Deep Fake Prohibition Act was introduced to the United States Senate. The act focuses on how deep fakes violate human rights and can put people in danger. Despite the fact that New Zealand and others already have laws as well as guidelines set into place to cater to these types of risks, the Crimes Act comes to mind, they don’t do enough against deep fakes. The Crimes Act covers those who have been the victim of deception that was used for someone else’s personal gain. There is also the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which protects people from content that’s being used for malice. The Privacy Act also exists and it states that “wrong personal information that’s circulated is still personal information.”
For the most part, deep fakes are used as satire or for fun. “A lot of artists want to show off their skills or create something that will make others laugh. The bulk of deep fakes are completely harmless. There might be some hurt feelings, but that’s usually the extent of it. However when we’re looking at videos like this, we can easily see the risks.”
There is also the fear that if any more legislation was imposed regarding deep fakes, that it would be nearly impossible for oppressed groups to find an outlet on social media.
Deep Fakes: Are They Friend or Foe?
If you type in deep fake into your Google search engine, you’ll be rewarded with a number of articles about the subject matter as well as tons of video content. It’s an incredibly hot topic in the media right now and there are also a ton of YouTubers who dabble in it.
Tom Sainsbury is one of the most well known. He argues that the videos he creates are for “human expression” and that it’s protected under the constitution and laws. He uses face-swapping apps for political clips on Facebook that are satirical in nature. He often targets Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett in these videos. “It’s art. Just because it’s not on a canvas doesn’t mean that it’s not a human expression. There are a ton of political cartoons that get published in magazines, papers, and on social media everyday. Just because mine is animated doesn’t make it any different. These artists have the right to publish their stuff so why don’t I?”
Websites like whichfaceisreal.com and thispersondoesnotexist.com cater to these genre of “art.” Here you can find a number of videos that showcase deep fake technology. There are a variety of deep fakes available to watch including one of “Barack Obama” cussing everyone out (if you decide to check this one out keep in mind it features a lot of strong language so it’s definitely not suitable for work” and you can also find US company DeepTrace’s attempt to superimpose Steve Buscemi’s face onto Jennifer Lawrence’s body. And trust us when we say that one is the stuff of nightmares.
While this might seem light hearted and fun at first, the fact that the ever-evolving nature of this type of content makes it incredibly difficult for Facebook to regulate. “It’s hard to track down the origins,” Bickert said. “By the time we get ahold of it, it’s been passed down, re-uploaded, and circulated so many times that it’s impossible to find the original creator. And because people can just download and save the content to their own personal computer to upload later, it’s incredibly difficult to keep it from popping back up at inopportune times.”
Barnes and Barraclough also note that as a society, we’ve come to trust the data delivered to us. “We tend to want to trust things; it’s almost like a biological need. We don’t want to believe that someone out there is fooling us. However, people have been really good about understanding how true stuff they see and hear on video/audio is. They tend to take it with a grain of salt and understand that this is just a partial representation of reality. And for that, I’m grateful,” Barraclough says.
However, the biggest danger with this type of content is what he refers to as “over-skepticism.”
“Because we’re now priming viewers to question everything they see, they might dismiss important stuff as hoaxes too. For example, if the Jami-Lee Ross audio recordings of Simon Bridges had been released later on in the future, people probably wouldn’t believe it. They’d be quick to dismiss it as just another deep fake. And this is dangerous. We don’t want to spread misinformation so much to the point that we start doubting everything we see. This can have dire consequences,” Barraclough laments.
What are your thoughts?
Personally speaking, we weren’t really that familiar with deep fakes until the Mark Zuckerberg one hit the airwaves. We want to know whether or not this was something you’d heard of or if it’s news to you so to speak. We also want to know what you think of the technology. Do you agree with Tom Sainsbury or do you side with others that it has the potential to cause more harm than good? Let us know in the comment section below and use our social media buttons to share this article with your friends!